Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Ursula Le Guin, fully Ursula Kroeber Le Guin

American Author, Novelist, Children's Books and Short Stories, Awarded Hugo Award and Nebula Awards for Best Novel

"When action grows unprofitable, gather information; when information grows unprofitable, sleep."

"It is good to have an end to journey towards, but it is the journey that matters in the end."

"We are sacred."

"A man does not make his destiny: he accepts it or denies it."

"A man wants his virility regarded, a woman wants her femininity appreciated, however indirect and subtle the indications of regard and appreciation. On Winter they will not exist. One is respected and judged only as a human being. It is an appalling experience."

"A man would know the end he goes to, but he cannot know it if he does not turn, and return to his beginning, and hold that beginning in his being. If he would not be a stick whirled and whelmed in the stream, he must be the stream itself, all of it, from its spring to its sinking in the sea."

"A moral choice in its basic terms appears to be a choice that favors survival: a choice made in favor of life."

"A child free from the guilt of ownership and the burden of economic competition will grow up with the will to do what needs doing and the capacity for joy in doing it. It is useless work that darkens the heart. The delight of the nursing mother, of the scholar, of the successful hunter, of the good cook, of the skilful maker, of anyone doing needed work and doing it well, - this durable joy is perhaps the deepest source of human affection and of sociality as a whole."

"A person who believes, as she did, that things fit: that there is a whole of which one is a part, and that in being a part one is whole: such a person has no desire whatever, at any time, to play God. Only those who have denied their being yearn to play at it."

"A profound love between two people involves, after all, the power and chance of doing profound hurt."

"A scientist can pretend that his work isn't himself, it's merely the impersonal truth. An artist can't hide behind the truth. He can't hide anywhere."

"A Woman is home caring for her children! even if she can't. Trapped in this well-built trap, A Woman blames her mother for luring her into it, while ensuring that her own daughter never gets out; she recoils from the idea of sisterhood and doesn't believe women have friends, because it probably means something unnatural, and anyhow, A Woman is afraid of women. She's a male construct, and she's afraid women will deconstruct her. She's afraid of everything, because she can't change. Thighs forever thin and shining hair and shining teeth and she's my Mom, too, all seven percent of her. And she never grows old."

"A writer is a person who cares what words mean, what they say, how they say it. Writers know words are their way towards truth and freedom, and so they use them with care, with thought, with fear, with delight. By using words well they strengthen their souls. Story-tellers and poets spend their lives learning that skill and art of using words well. And their words make the souls of their readers stronger, brighter, deeper."

"All of us have to learn how to invent our lives, make them up, imagine them. We need to be taught these skills; we need guides to show us how. If we don't, our lives get made up for us by other people."

"All they're trying to do is tell you what they're like, and what you're like—what's going on—what the weather is now, today, this moment, the rain, the sunlight, look! Open your eyes; listen, listen. That is what the novelists say. But they don't tell you what you will see and hear. All they can tell you is what they have seen and heard, in their time in this world, a third of it spent in sleep and dreaming, another third of it spent in telling lies. The truth against the world!—Yes. Certainly. Fiction writers, at least in their braver moments, do desire the truth: to know it, speak it, serve it."

"Almost everything carried to its logical extreme becomes depressing, if not carcinogenic."

"An act is not, as young men think, like a rock that one picks up and throws, and it hits or misses, and that’s the end of it. When the rock is lifted, the earth is lighter, the hand that bears it heavier. When it is thrown the circuits of the stars respond, and where it strikes or falls the universe is changed. On every act the balance of the whole depends. The winds and seas, the powers of water and earth and light, all that these do, and all that the beasts and green things do, is well done, and rightly done. All these act within the Equilibrium. From the hurricane and the great whale’s sounding to the fall of a dry leaf and the gnat’s flight, all they do is done within the balance of the whole. But we, in so far as we have power over the world and over one another, we must learn to do what the leaf and the whale and the wind do of their own nature. We must learn to keep the balance. Having intelligence, we must not act in ignorance. Having choice, we must not act without responsibility. Who am I – though I have the power to do it – to punish and reward, playing with men’s destinies?"

"And day to day, life's a hard job, you get tired, you lose the pattern. You need distance, interval. The way to see how beautiful the earth is, is to see it as the moon. The way to see how beautiful life is, is from the vantage point of death."

"And I speak of spiritual suffering! Of people seeing their talent, their work, their lives wasted. Of good minds submitting to stupid ones. Of strength and courage strangled by envy, greed for power, fear of change. Change is freedom, change is life"

"And none could cry Murder, but only Justice done."

"And though I came to forget or regret all I have ever done, yet would I remember that once I saw the dragons aloft on the wind at sunset above the western isles; and I would be content."

"Anyhow they’re always exceptions. But most women, their only relationship to a man is having. Either owning or being owned."

"As a man's real power grows and his knowledge widens, ever the way he can follow grows narrower: until at last he chooses nothing, but does only and wholly what he must do..."

"As great scientists have said and as all children know, it is above all by the imagination that we achieve perception, and compassion, and hope."

"As you can see, arenas, an act is not, as young people often think, like a stone, someone lifts and throws, and it succeeds or fails, that's all. When you lift this rock, the earth becomes lighter and hand to bear it becomes heavier. When you fly, the circuits of the stars respond, and where hit or falls the universe is changed. With each act of compromising the overall balance. The winds and seas, the forces of water, soil and light, animals and plants, and everything they do is good and correct us make. Because all of them act in the balance. Since the hurricane and the blare of the great whales, until the dried drop one sex and the flying gnats: it's all done with a view to balance the total. But we, to the extent that we have dominion over the universe and the one over the other, we must learn to do what the leaf and the whale and the wind do by their nature. We must learn to maintain balance. Once you have intelligence, you should not act out of ignorance. After you have choices, you should not behave irresponsibly."

"As you read a book word by word and page by page, you participate in its creation, just as a cellist playing a Bach suite participates, note by note, in the creation, the coming-to-be, the existence, of the music. And, as you read and re-read, the book of course participates in the creation of you, your thoughts and feelings, the size and temper of your soul."

"Atro had once explained to him how this was managed, how the sergeants could give the privates orders, how the lieutenants could give the privates and the sergeants orders, how the captains... and so on and so on up to the generals, who could give everyone else orders and need take them from none, except the commander in chief. Shevek had listened with incredulous disgust. You call that organization? he had inquired. You even call it discipline? But it is neither. It is a coercive mechanism of extraordinary inefficiency--a kind of seventh-millennium steam engine! With such a rigid and fragile structure what could be done that was worth doing? This had given Atro a chance to argue the worth of warfare as the breeder of courage and manliness and weeder-out of the unfit, but the very line of his argument had forced him to concede the effectiveness of guerrillas, organized from below, self-disciplined. But that only works when the people think they're fighting for something of their own--you know, their homes, or some notion or other, the old man had said. Shevek had dropped the argument. He now continued it, in the darkening basement among the stacked crates of unlabeled chemicals. He explained to Atro that he now understood why the Army was organized as it was. It was indeed quite necessary. No rational form of organization would serve the purpose. He simply had not understood that the purpose was to enable men with machine guns to kill unarmed men and women easily and in great quantities when told to do so."

"Belief in heaven and hell is a big deal in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and some forms of doctrinaire Buddhism. For the rest of us it's simply meaningless. We don't live in order to die, we live in order to live."

"Belief is the wound that knowledge heals."

"But it doesn't take a thousand men to open a door, my lord. It might to keep it open."

"But it is one thing to read about dragons and another to meet them."

"But need alone is not enough to set power free: there must be knowledge."

"But now his dry and silent grieving for his lost wife must end, for there she stood, the fierce, recalcitrant, and fragile stranger, forever to be won again."

"But you must not change one thing, one pebble, one grain of sand, until you know what good and evil will follow on that act. The world is in balance, in Equilibrium. A wizard's power of Changing and Summoning can shake the balance of the world. It is dangerous, that power...It must follow knowledge, and serve need."

"But you're not a traitor, you've merely been the tool of one. I don't punish tools. They do harm only in the hands of a bad workman."

"By and large books are mankind's best invention."

"Can true function arise from basic dysfunction?"

"Change is freedom, change is life. It's always easier not to think for oneself. Find a nice safe hierarchy and settle in. Don't make changes, don't risk disapproval, don't upset your syndics. It's always easiest to let yourself be governed. There's a point, around age twenty, when you have to choose whether to be like everybody else the rest of your life, or to make a virtue of your peculiarities. Those who build walls are their own prisoners. I'm going to go fulfill my proper function in the social organism. I'm going to go unbuild walls."

"Children know perfectly well that unicorns aren’t real, but they also know that books about unicorns, if they are good books, are true books."

"Claude Levi-Strauss has been a great source of fruitful irritation to my mind."

"Close up, a world's all dirt and rocks... The way to see how beautiful the earth is, is to see it as the moon. The way to see how beautiful life is, is from the vantage point of death."

"Comfort was allowed to come to them rare, welcome, unsought: a gift like joy."

"Compare the torrent and the glacier. Both get where they are going."

"Current-borne, wave-flung, tugged hugely by the whole might of ocean, the jellyfish drifts in the tidal abyss. The light shines through it, and the dark enters it. Borne, flung, tugged from anywhere to anywhere, for in the deep sea there is no compass but nearer and farther, higher and lower, the jellyfish hangs and sways; pulses move slight and quick within it, as the vast diurnal pulses beat in the moon-driven sea. Hanging, swaying, pulsing, the most vulnerable and insubstantial creature, it has for its defense the violence and power of the whole ocean, to which it has entrusted its being, its going, and its will."

"Dangerous! Vea laughed radiantly. What an utterly marvelous compliment! Why am I dangerous, Shevek? Why, because you know that in the eyes of men you are a thing, a thing owned, bought, sold. And so you think only of tricking the owners, of getting revenge."

"Darkness is only in the mortal eye that thinks it sees, but sees not."

"Dead anarchists make martyrs, you know, and keep living for centuries. But absent ones can be forgotten."

"Death and life are the same thing-like the two sides of my hand, the palm and the back. And still the palm and the back are not the same...They can be neither separated, nor mixed."

"Distrust everything I say. I am telling the truth."

"Do nothing because it is righteous or praiseworthy or noble to do so; do nothing because it seems good to do so; do only that which you must do and which you cannot do in any other way."