Hear Neil Gaiman Read a Beautiful, Profound Poem by Ursula K. Le Guin to His Cousin on Her 100th Birthday

It’s quite pro­found, isn’t it? — Helen Fagin, aged 100

Every time I open my lap­top to dis­cov­er a friend post­ing a vin­tage pho­to of their par­ent as a beam­ing bride or saucy sailor boy in lush black and white or gold-tinged Kodachrome, I know the deal.

Anoth­er elder has left the build­ing.

With luck, I’ll have at least two or three decades before my kids start sniff­ing around in my shoe box­es of old snap­shots.

In the mean­time, I’ll won­der how much of the emo­tion that’s packed into those memo­r­i­al post­ings gets expressed to the sub­ject in the days lead­ing up to their final exit.

Seems like most of us pussy­foot around the obvi­ous until it’s too late.

There are, of course, med­ical sit­u­a­tions that force us to acknowl­edge in a loved one’s pres­ence the abyss in their imme­di­ate future, but oth­er­wise, West­ern tra­di­tion has posi­tioned us to shy away from those sorts of dis­cus­sions.

Per­haps our loved ones pre­fer it that way.

Per­haps we do too.

It’s clear that author Neil Gaiman enjoys a spe­cial rela­tion­ship with his 100-year-old cousin, Helen Fagin, a Holo­caust sur­vivor and pro­fes­sor of lit­er­a­ture.

He has shared mem­o­ries of her with those attend­ing his pub­lic appear­ances and in hon­or of World Refugee Day.

His wife, musi­cian Aman­da Palmer, includ­ed a verse about Helen’s 98th birth­day in her song “A Mother’s Con­fes­sion,” below, flesh­ing out the lyrics with foot­notes on her blog.

In cel­e­bra­tion of Helen’s cen­te­nary, Palmer asked Brain Picking’s Maria Popo­va to rec­om­mend a poem that Gaiman could read aloud dur­ing anoth­er in-per­son birth­day vis­it.

Popo­va set­tled on “How It Seems To Me,” a late-in-life poem by sci­ence fic­tion writer Ursu­la K. Le Guin, a close friend of Gaiman’s who died in Jan­u­ary of 2018, 12 years shy of her own cen­te­nary:


In the vast abyss before time, self

is not, and soul com­min­gles

with mist, and rock, and light. In time,

soul brings the misty self to be.

Then slow time hard­ens self to stone

while ever light­en­ing the soul,

till soul can loose its hold of self

and both are free and can return

to vast­ness and dis­solve in light,

the long light after time.

It’s a hell of a hun­dredth birth­day gift, though far from a one-size-fits all propo­si­tion.

Per­haps when you are a nona­ge­nar­i­an, you’d rather the young peo­ple err on the side of tra­di­tion with a com­fy new robe.

There are octo­ge­nar­i­an birth­day boys and girls who’d pick an African vio­let over the misty self, tricky to keep alive though they may be.

As filmed by Palmer, Helen seemed to receive the gift in the spir­it it was intend­ed. Life equipped her for it.

via Brain Pick­ings

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Neil Gaiman Presents “How Sto­ries Last,” an Insight­ful Lec­ture on How Sto­ries Change, Evolve & Endure Through the Cen­turies

18 Sto­ries & Nov­els by Neil Gaiman Online: Free Texts & Read­ings by Neil Him­self

Neil Gaiman Reads “The Man Who For­got Ray Brad­bury”

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  See her onstage in New York City in Feb­ru­ary as host of  The­ater of the Apes book-based vari­ety show, Necro­mancers of the Pub­lic Domain. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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