What is Real: Inscribed on the Wall of the Western Grove

COOL POEMS: Introduction > THE POEMS

Topics: What is Real, Neo; how do you Define “Real”? II

Author: Su Shi (1037-1101)

Inscribed on the Wall of the Western Grove

Viewed askance it’s a mountain range; viewed head on it’s a peak;
Near and far, high and low, every way you look it’s not the same.
Most likely I will never know what Mount Lu really is;
All I know is I, myself, belong here in this mountain.

Comments: As with Mei Yaochen’s poem on having a dream, Su’s poem asks how is it we know what is real? Any object viewed from different perspectives (this phrase should not be taken too literally) will reveal different characteristics. Taking a modern example, if you photograph a distant galaxy in visible light, it’s outline will be different from what you’d see in infrared light or radio waves. Which is the real galaxy? In a sense, all are real but none is complete. Drawing on Zhuangzi, Su suggests that there’s no basis for dogmatically taking one point of view as the eternally “real” one. What is real, for certain, is Su’s own, subjective feeling that this place suits his character. He thereby transfers agency for deciding on what’s “real” to the individual, at least in matters that concern the individual.

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