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Old 09-09-2018, 11:17 AM
Aaron Novick's Avatar
Aaron Novick Aaron Novick is online now
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Default presocratic sestina (of sorts)

PaleGreen text

Heraclitus (original w/ light revisions)

It's morning now: earth is awake,
At least this sliver that the sun,
New-made, enlightens. You watch its fire
Banish the dreamworld for more stable
Fantasies: for instance, this mountain
It's crowning: solid, long-standing, public.

But though the sunrise is a public
Possession, you watch it as if asleep,
As if it summits the dream of a mountain,
As if even the sun worships the moon
And its stolen light, taking as stable
Its monthly misgiving, the wavering water.

Let us linger over this water,
Encountered, as it is, only in private:
Always vanishing, never stable.
Every
morning we awake
To the last remnants of the moon,
Too dim to show in that day's river.

You've misplaced yourself in this river,
Your heart consumed by its cold fire
And now dead ash. Meanwhile the moon
Cedes the sky to the sun; the public,
By now exuberantly awake,
Deafens; epiphany proves transient.

Slow down, slow down. That all is transient,
I allow. What of it? The mountain
Outlasts us: each day, we awake
And it's there, inviting thoughts of the water
And wind that destroy it: slowly, a public
Spectacle, thanks to the tattletale sun.


You thought you had it, but no. The sun
Is sinking. Awareness recedes. The stable,
Cyclic sky reveals to the public
An old new face. Beside the river,
Streetlights cast globes on its murky water
For whoever still can't fall asleep.

The moon watches itself in the river:
Transient disturbance, turbulent water—
But the laughter is private, the sliver asleep.


EDITS:

S3L3: . --> ,
S3L4: As each --> Every
S3L5: last remnants --> faded efforts --> last remnants

S5: changed to italics to indicate voice change
S5L2: Allowable --> I allow
S5L4: To contemplate the way --> And it's there, and we think of how --> And it's there, inviting thoughts of
S5L5: destroy --> that destroy

S6L4: Beside --> Along --> Beside
S6L5: its --> the --> its

Last edited by Aaron Novick; 09-12-2018 at 02:16 PM.
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Old 09-10-2018, 06:23 AM
Matt Q Matt Q is offline
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Hi Aaron,

I'll start by saying I think this is very good. In terms of form, I think that varying some of the teuletons with their opposites is working very well with the them of change and its cyclic nature: awake/asleep, public/private, fire/water work, stable transient, sun/moon and mountain/river. More generally the sestina form works well with the content by offering variation (change) and cyclic repetition. In terms of content, the weaving of philosophical/existential themes into a personal address to a seemingly troubled Heraclitus, whose views the N doesn't quite seem persuaded of, the move toward more sharedl/existential ground, and the personification of the sun and moon works well for me, and has made for rewarding rereading.

The poem winds its way around three of Heraclitus' writings/fragments: Most obviously the river metaphor. Also "The waking have one world in common; sleepers have each a private world of his own.", and "This universe, which is the same for all, has not been made by any god or man, but it always has been, is, and will be an ever-living fire, kindling itself by regular measures and going out by regular measures.". The also poem plays with associations/allegiances between these, as I read it: public agreed-upon reality being (more) stable, appearance, and associated with the mountain and wakefulness. The private experience being transient, flux, (deeper) reality, river and sleep.

I have a couple of nits:

The river seems central here, but doesn't appear in the scene-setting of the first stanza. When "the wavering water" first appears at the end of S2, its not clear what water this is, but the definite article, its combination with moon, read like it has already been introduced, if that makes sense. I find myself thinking "what water"? The first mention of a river appears at the end of S3, almost half-way through the poem. Perhaps because of Heraclitus, I should assume the water is a river, but I didn't.

One thing that brought me up a little and took me out of the poem a little was this:

................. each day, we awake
To contemplate the way the water
And wind destroy it

We do? At least at the literal level, the effects of water and wind erosion are so slow that at the least, any such contemplation seems unlikely to be triggered by any daily visual changes. It may well at a metaphorical level, I guess, depending on what the mountain is taken symbolises here. If what we contemplate on waking is the changes in our lives and the (in)stability of our worlds, then I'm with you, but I'd like it to work better at the literal level as the rest of the poem seems to.

"That all is transient— / Allowable. What of it?"

The terseness of "allowable" struck me as a little out of keeping with the voice. "That all is transient, I will allow" maybe? Or "we will allow" ...?

Matt
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Old 09-10-2018, 07:11 AM
Jim Moonan Jim Moonan is offline
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Hi Aaron,
First, again I can’t help but notice the more direct, relaxed expression of your voice. It is significantly more readable to me as someone who struggles to follow poetic expression that feels unfamiliar to me ear. It is as if you have exhaled and are breathing as you write.

Some thoughts:
  • I struggle with some aspects of your poems that are written to adhere to a formal poetic expression and delve into subjects that have me googling until a become overwhelmed. But that is my loss and I’m bound and determined to make up for it over the long run.
  • But this is fluidly written (and lucidly) enough for me to just sit back and enjoy the imagery and the thought.
  • In S3: do we awake each morning to the last remnants of the moon? Aren’t there mornings when the moon still shines full?
  • Matt brings up a number of interesting points that help me access the aspects I find hard to parse. For example, he questions the literalness of the passage beginning with, “each day we awake…”. Though I might take issue with him on that (I often look at something and see many other things past and future contained within it) I do think you could re-word a bit as he suggests.
  • The sonics are splendid throughout.
  • I agree that there is no permanence to existence. The kicker, though, is that is the permanence. That there is no conceivable end. The permanence is outside the realm of existence.
  • The rumination on permanence and transience in wakefulness and dream imagery is well wrought.
  • A crit -- though not to be taken as a fault -- is that the poem’s purpose seems to be as much that it is written as an exercise as it is a means of expressing original thought. Perhaps your thought is still in formation and always will be....? I think that way.
  • There are some beautifully phrased images in this, the final two stanzas being my favorites.
  • Have you thought of switching to first person or third person plural? Though I do realise you are essentially talking to yourself, which I like very much.

Much enjoyed!
x
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Old 09-10-2018, 11:39 AM
Erik Olson Erik Olson is offline
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Aaron,

I venture this may be my favorite piece of yours that I have read in this sphere. The imagery is at once evocative and connotative. The overall approach is effective indeed. I confess I have not much to add this moment, save for a few minor nits that I can in the time being. I found Matt’s comments a helpful primer and indeed elucidating. Without further ado then.
You watch its fire
Banish the dreamworld for more stable
Fantasies: for instance, this mountain
It's crowning: solid, long-standing, public.
We are missing some punctuation mark in the sentence below. I find the easiest way to spot where punctuation ought to go is by a momentary view of a sentence only without the line breaks.
You watch its fire banish the dreamworld for more stable fantasies: for instance, this mountain it’s crowning: solid, long-standing, public.
I am less than keen on one colon proceeding another in the span of one sentence: a list that leads on to a list or, in other words, a list within a list. The which can be eschewed easiest if we trade the first colon for a period. While I am on this sentence, you need a comma after ‘mountain,’ though I suppose an em dash would alternatively do the trick were it desired. Otherwise, we could have: this mountain is crowning...
Slow down, slow down. That all is transient—
Allowable. What of it? The mountain
Outlasts us: each day, we awake
To contemplate the way the water
And wind destroy it: slowly, a public
Spectacle, thanks to the tattletale sun.
Here again, as I said earlier, I am not one for multiple colons within a single sentence.
You thought you had it, but no. The sun
Is sinking. Awareness recedes. The stable,
Cyclic sky reveals to the public
An old new face. Beside the river,
Streetlights cast globes on its murky water
For whoever still can't fall asleep.
It appears a comma would be due after ‘old’, though I suppose you could hyphenate if you wanted also. The rest, as far as I can tell, is punctuated right and well. That is, no other little issues struck me in this or the like respect.

Observations towards an explication: The sunrise stands for public knowledge, yet such can only be apprehended by an individual from his own personal vista, as it were. As if that sunrise surmounted or descended relatively to a point in his dream like a mountain dreamt by him. The knowledge gleaned must inevitably alter over time, as a river will never be the same from one moment to the next; the inconstancy of the known, as of things themselves, is the only constant. The sunlight or public knowledge would take things as stable but this is a fantasy, itself being only accessible through private knowledge which is necessarily unstable and in flux. Something like that.

The end part is my favorite of the poem, finding its imagery even more striking. I think this form appears well suited to Heraclitus's doctrines, both that things are ever changing, in universal flux, as well as that opposites coincide, the unity of opposites. Generally, his affinity for paradox. For instance, the sun shown subordinate to the moon and so forth. The interrelation of some of the symbols and corresponding notions get a bit thorny at times, perhaps. There is a lot here to appreciate; I did the efficacious union of images and philosophical precepts. If only bit by bit, I shall return with more later.

Cheers,

Erik

Last edited by Erik Olson; 09-10-2018 at 04:09 PM.
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Old 09-10-2018, 04:04 PM
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Jan Iwaszkiewicz Jan Iwaszkiewicz is offline
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I enjoyed this very much Aaron and echo the praise given above.

Sidebar to Matt Q, You said:
Quote:
At least at the literal level, the effects of water and wind erosion are so slow
I beg to disagree wind and water can change and shape the environment with great immediacy, it is not just the carving or crazing of stone.

Jan
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Old 09-10-2018, 04:48 PM
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Aaron Novick Aaron Novick is online now
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Thanks all for your sensitive readings and helpful criticisms. Two revisions are up, one revising within the second-personal framework of the original, the other trying out a first-personal version of the poem.

Matt, thanks for your careful reading, as always. You raise a number of good points that I'm still thinking about how to resolve. In S2, I was thinking of the moon's gravitational pull on earth's body's of water—at the right time scale, water wavers because of it. But maybe the river should appear earlier. In S5, what I'm going for is the reassurance of the stable mountain (which largely doesn't change much on timescales we see), only for this reassurance to be undermined by our knowledge that, in the long run, it too is a transient thing. So it is meant to work on the literal level. I think in the original I made the turn between these thoughts too fast. I've revised it to slow things down. I'm still thinking about "allowable"—maybe "I allow" would be better.

Jim, thanks. I'm very heartened to hear that the language invites you in. I want my poems to be accessible largely without the aid of google (though I don't mind if google helps one to a richer appreciation of them). Point taken about "last remnants", and revision made. And I've put up a version in the first person to see how it looks—thanks for pushing me to look at it in a new light.

I fully understand its feeling like an exercise, though I hope it transcends that. The thought was partially formed, then the idea for a sestina with shifting teleutons came to me, and then both thought and form worked on each other until I ended up with this. That's how it often is for me: thought and form are co-discovered.

Erik, thanks for pushing me on my punctuation choices. Normally I steer away from double colons, but here I use them deliberately: the multiple layers of qualification fit with Heraclitus. Where you think something should be pinned down and finished, you find it twists away and shifts beneath you. For "this mountain / it's crowning", read "this mountain [that] it [i.e. the sun] is crowning". I hear your point about "old new" wanting a comma, but in this instance I don't want the comma, for two reasons: (1) rhythmically, it's too much of a pause; (2) semantically, it's not a "face" that it is both "old" and "new", but rather a "new face" that is "old". The lack of a comma I think encourages the reader to treat "new face" as a unit qualified by "old".

Jan, thank you. I'm very glad you enjoy it.
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Old 09-10-2018, 04:55 PM
Matt Q Matt Q is offline
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[cross-posted]

Aaron,

I think the first-person version loses a lot. I much prefer reading this as addressed to Heraclitus, which seems more intimate, and is part what I enjoyed about the original. I'll try to come back for the other revisions later.

Jan,

Yes, they can do it with great immediacy but they don't do that every day. At least, not in my limited experience of mountains. Also, the poem specifies "slowly" with respect to how the wind and water destroy the mountain, which is what I was responding to. In either case, I'd say that there's a lack of visible stimulus on a daily basis to cause one the contemplate the mountains destruction each morning, which was the point I was trying to make. Though, of course, one might have other reasons to do so.

best,

Matt

Last edited by Matt Q; 09-10-2018 at 05:02 PM.
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Old 09-10-2018, 05:30 PM
Erik Olson Erik Olson is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Aaron Novick View Post
. For "this mountain / it's crowning", read "this mountain [that] it [i.e. the sun] is crowning".
Aha! I was afraid it might have been intended thus. For my part, this elision does not work all that well. In the first place, the line-break creates a pause between ‘mountain’ and ‘It's’ so as to make the line sound more like a new clause than a continuation of the same. In the second place, this part calls out for a clarifying and joining word to connect ‘mountain’ and ‘crowning’ like that, without which it sounds too easily other than how you meant.
You watch its fire
Banish the dreamworld for more stable
Fantasies: for instance, this mountain
It's crowning: solid, long-standing, and public.
I would even prefer, say: the mountain / it crowns is solid and long-standing over ‘the mountain / It's’.

It just smacks of poor style off the bat to me with two colons, let alone where one could have simply used is instead. I understand in a notional and theoretical way your justification for two colons in one sentence. But as theoretically consistent as the justification sounds with the overall design, it is still not enough for me if in practice it looks ugly and chafes. I cannot bring myself to like all these ugly colons and advice against it without the need of theoretical or any other grounds than that they look like (or are) a basic stylistic defect. The piece seems plenty shifty even without what is for me a slight annoyance and, further, one which I think unnecessary. But of course, it is your call.

Best,
Erik

Last edited by Erik Olson; 09-10-2018 at 08:24 PM. Reason: I meant aha, not ahh for fear.
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Old 09-10-2018, 06:47 PM
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Jan Iwaszkiewicz Jan Iwaszkiewicz is offline
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Matt, I spent nearly twenty years measuring stream flow and sediment transport so I realise that I am being a little painful on the subject but rivers, even at base flow, and winds will transport the dust of mountains, micro erosion, in a manner that is quite visible and immediate.

Sorry for the hijack Aaron.

Jan
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Old 09-10-2018, 06:50 PM
Jim Moonan Jim Moonan is offline
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Matt: "I think the first-person version loses a lot. I much prefer reading this as addressed to Heraclitus"

Matt, I trust your judgement more than my own on matters such as this, but... Is it possible that the first person version is Heraclitus himself expressing private thoughts that waiver from his public ones?
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