As testimonies, tributes, and memorials flood the internet, many refer to the product of Ursula K. Le Guin’s writing career, her art, as a body of work.
I am fascinated by the phrase.
In leaving her physical body, Le Guin draws attention to that other body, the one she built with words. The body she created, the wake of her living, is extensive, dense, gorgeous, precise, urgently important, and breathing.
In library shelves, old hardback novels, stained by the fingerprints of generations of readers. On bookstore displays, pages crisp and fresh, smelling of new ink. Dog-eared on bedroom nightstands, piled together with co-conspirators of every genre.
It is right to mourn the passing of a person of such integrity, wit, intelligence, talent, dedication, discipline, someone who has influenced whole generations, and worlds, with her art. We should be grief-stricken. We have lost a giant.
And yet, she is not gone. Not totally. Her body of work now stands in for her person. It is not a fair trade, bound pages for a soul, but it is a glittering legacy. Every time her words are read aloud, mentally, heard, understood, pondered over, she grins and winks. She whispers in our ears words of power, passion, truth, and imagination. In this way, she is not dead at all, and never will be.
Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.
“Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep,” Mary Elizabeth Frye