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Unread 01-17-2021, 01:35 AM
Aaron Novick's Avatar
Aaron Novick Aaron Novick is offline
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Default radical revision

wheat text

Gongsun Longzi

When white horse galloped past the wall's thin crack
and vanished, none took note but you: Not horse,
you muttered as you raced outside to track

the last of its fast-fading footfall's force,
its shape and color shrinking, neutral, square.
It was already gone, of course. Of course.

But still you knew—that's it—and had to share:
how we carve up all things, or try, and fail
to mark the All, and miss what's really there.

The jesters at the court were getting stale.
The duke, burdened with war, had had his fill
and took you on, who dared to countervail

all reason. Standing there, you felt the thrill
of knowledge coursing through you, felt your blood
run hot. White horse is not a horse. Stock-still,

you let your statement linger, gauged the mood,
then, satisfied by their shock: so, love all.
Love all as one.
But no one understood.

Before blank stares, your face began to fall.
The general piped up. What's that? It's not
a horse? Absurd!
You: 'White' is what we call

the color, 'horse' the shape. And so we ought
to love each other, end this endless war.

But still your meaning trotted past their thought.

A jester next: The T-square is not square.
The compass cannot draw a curve. The eye
is blind
—and on, and on—and I've got more!

You perked up, briefly hopeful: would he tie
it back to love? To peace? No illness ails.
A hen has
No! you raged, that's not what I...

Ehhhhh, screw it. Eggs have feathers. Frogs have tails.

So white horse canters still down untraced trails,
laughing at us beyond ten thousand pales.


S7L2 was: Then one piped up. How can you say it's not

S9L1: Another spoke. --> A jester next:

S11L2 was: Still white horse canters down unfollowed trails,

Last edited by Aaron Novick; 01-27-2021 at 01:30 AM.
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Unread 01-17-2021, 01:42 PM
Golias Golias is offline
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Location: Lewisburg, PA, USA
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Interesting construct of an imaginary? example to show the folly of
trying to equate words and objects, but I wonder whether it is worth the trouble of making verse of the topic. You seem to think that it isn't. However, I do appreciate having the White Horse paradox and the School of Names brought to my attention.

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Unread 01-17-2021, 11:34 PM
Aaron Novick's Avatar
Aaron Novick Aaron Novick is offline
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Thank you, Golias. I am not "making verse of the topic", in the sense of simply taking historical record and setting it to verse; rather, the historical materials occasioned a novel perception, and that is what is here expressed.

On the question of whether said perception is of sufficient interest to sustain the poem (I take it you think not), well, the poem will have to defend itself.
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Unread 01-17-2021, 11:45 PM
Andrew Frisardi Andrew Frisardi is offline
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Location: Lazio, Italy
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I like this a lot, Aaron. You often write vividly about perception, of appearances and what’s behind or inside them, and that is how I am reading the horse, who is a horse of course, of course (I enjoyed the wry humor there).

At first I was thinking that the poem could be shorter, but now I see that you need all or almost all of what’s here, to give space to the speculation and the dialogue, and build up to the conclusion. I had to look up Gongsun Longzi, but before I did I was noticing the similarity to some Aristotelian thought about substance and accidents or properties. And I see on Wiki that Gongsun is known for “"White horses are not horses.” But this background wasn’t necessary for my getting into the poem.

As I see it, the poem (or the “you” of the narrative) is showing through paradox that human perception is a mostly a mental construct, an illusion, so surely war and viciousness are pointless and delusional. But the men of court he is talking to don’t understand his point, they parrot the paradoxes ad absurdum, so he throws up his hands at the end.

A couple thoughts for revision:

I wonder about the second-person conceit of it. I found it somewhat distracting, since it makes me wonder who the speaker is, and the dramatic monologue doesn’t develop him/her as a character. What would you think of switching to third-person omniscience?

I’d consider reworking lines 3-4 of the poem. For one thing, opening with an enjambed stanza weakens the poem’s force in stating it is terza rima. An end-stopped opener would be better, I think, as well as a less heavily alliterative line 4. I also found these lines a little hard to take in on the literal level: is track the right verb for what the person is doing there? It seems shoehorned in for the rhyme.


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Unread 01-18-2021, 12:35 PM
Daniel Kemper's Avatar
Daniel Kemper Daniel Kemper is offline
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This is some revision! I still remember the form of the original.

I think this version much more readable and accessible. Yet still I prefer to mull your work a day before going into detail. Many are the misfires and public embarrassment I've avoided by doing so.

Let me shallowly remark that I like the humanizing language given to the speaker. And as I believe you are observing, the 'white horse not horse' is applicable to the un-necessity of war, I'd want to comment that it also gestures at the impossibility of war (if you will). But I'm out on a limb and will circle back later...
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Unread 01-18-2021, 12:59 PM
Aaron Novick's Avatar
Aaron Novick Aaron Novick is offline
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Andrew, thanks, both for your overall approbation and your critical remarks. I find it curious that both of ancient China's most noted paradox-mongers—Hui Shi and Gongsun Long—both appear to have been some kind of pacifist. Are those facts connected? The available sources are at best suggestive on this point, making it ripe for poetic exploration, in my view. You've got the dramatic action exactly right, and I'm glad that on reflection it doesn't seem too long—I was actually worried that it would be too short to make the drama clear. Your comments reassure me on that point.

I appreciate the comment about the use of second-person; it reveals that something important in the poem hasn't come through. I'll have to think about how to address that. As for "track", I intend the last stanza to pick it back up: white horse still has not been tracked down its "unfollowed trails". Perhaps a more explicit echo would help here, along these lines:
So white horse canters still down untraced trails
Thanks for pressing me.

Daniel—radical indeed, which is why it has taken some months to appear! Your comment that the original needed a more concrete setting helped push me in this direction, alongside Rick's insistence that it was on the whole a stinker. So thanks for that, and I look forward, as always, to your comments to come.

Thanks both.

Last edited by Aaron Novick; 01-18-2021 at 01:01 PM.
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Unread 01-22-2021, 08:06 PM
S.R. Little Stone's Avatar
S.R. Little Stone S.R. Little Stone is offline
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Hey Aaron,

I think this is a very interesting and intelligently written poem. Some of my thoughts have already been covered in previous comments, but I'll go ahead and echo what's been said about the 2nd-person speaker, in that I'm not sure who the speaker is or what's at stake for him/her.

My other big areas of concern are the 1st and final three stanzas.

In the first stanza, it's not clear to me what is meant by the "wall's thin crack". Is this the wall of a racecourse or a metaphorical wall of perception? I didn't see anything about a wall when I searched for Longzi's White Horse dialogue online. I'm tempted to think that the speaker is referring to a wall of perception, but there are no other indications of this, and the phrase "none took note of it but you" seems to indicate the scene is capable of being perceived by others. (Maybe the point is that without differentiation i.e. if "all is one," then we could perceive each others' mental boundaries and breakthroughs fully and in real time, but this feels like a bit of a stretch and I would like more direct exploration of this theme in the poem.)

In the third to last stanza, "Another spoke" feels cursory to me. I'd like some kind of defining characteristics for this speaker (or for the audience in the duke's court in general). This may be a bit heavy handed, but I'd kind of like the character mocking Longzi to be a military figure, whose weapon is highlighted when he says, "No illness ails." The transitions in the penultimate stanza, from illness to a hen, to Longzi's frustration, were hard for me to follow tonally. The tonal turbulence became especially disruptive for me with the first line of the final stanza. I think my trouble is with the sudden shift to animal imagery, which felt reminiscent of an Animal Sounds wind-up toy. "Screw it" also felt like a very modern idiom, which perhaps has some relation to the speaker's role in the poem?

I think you've handled the form in this poem very well and the interwoven rhyme scheme of terza rima feels very appropriate to me, given the theme of denied/paradoxical boundaries. I'm not sure that "untraced" is the right word in that final stanza. If you wanted to be very blunt, you might say "unmetered".

Nice work and I'm curious to see how it will change if you revise it further!

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Unread 01-22-2021, 08:32 PM
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Katie Hoerth Katie Hoerth is offline
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Hi Aaron, this took a couple reads for me to appreciate, but it was worth it. This is such an interesting piece, and it's well written too. I admire the enjambment, which makes the rhyme feel subtle, skillful, and apt. My favorite line is But still your meaning trotted past their thought. which feels like the poem's heart--the "you" in the poem is absolutely misunderstood, and I particularly like how the line also ties the horse metaphor in.
Like others, I might suggest rethinking second person. It's a jarring way to narrate a poem, and I wonder what the purpose of such a voice is. What if the poem were first person? A face falling is a little cliche, but I think your poem has earned it, and the rhyme of "fall" fits too perfectly to be too bothered by it.
Really thought-provoking work.
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Unread 01-26-2021, 07:17 AM
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Andrew Mandelbaum Andrew Mandelbaum is offline
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Hey Aaron.
Great revision. Now as a reader I see what can come from the way of seeing that is being put forward. It is so solid through the first six stanza (save the typo- I think- of the double on in L12) that I wonder if it should end there. I read the the second half as taking on those who gravitate to the word game of it all rather than seeing the change in being with its implications that this observer is suggesting. But as verse it is not as tight as the earlier half because its a tough gig. Though its close so maybe it is worth pushing on. S3 is really excellent. Not an easy grab that you nailed there.
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Unread 01-26-2021, 04:45 PM
Aaron Novick's Avatar
Aaron Novick Aaron Novick is offline
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Little Stone, Katie, Andrew M., thank you all for your comments.

About the second person: the N is looking back to an earlier figure, reflecting on the example he set. "Laughing at us beyond ten thousand pales"—at us, at the N and the people of their time. Third person is too distant; the stakes are lost. First person is too close; again the stakes are close. Only second person gives the meeting of the two minds in this poem.

Clearly this is not coming across, and I will have to think about what, if anything, might be done about that. But only second person makes sense for this poem—I'm convinced of that much, on reflection.

To address a few other matters:

Little Stone: The brief glimpse one gets of a horse as it gallops past a thin crack in a wall was a stock metaphor, in Gongsun Long's time, for the brevity of life. That's where that image comes from; I recognize it probably doesn't translate without a note, but my hope is that the image at least reasonably speaks for itself. Thanks for pressing on "another spoke"—definitely see your point there. For what it's worth, every paradox in this poem traces back to a recorded ancient paradox, with the exception of "no illness ails" (my own invention in the style, since the preserved examples afforded no good rhymes).

Andrew M., ha, in revising I actually wrote the first six stanzas fairly easily, then got stuck for a few months. Unfortunately that break point is still apparent in the poem—I'll have to keep working on the remainder.

— — —

A couple light revisions in response to your comments. Still mulling the larger. Thanks all
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