The Ancient Dispute

Plato, Republic 607b

The clever ape looks in the passing glass

and laughs and looks and points and cries and gapes

until he grows accustomed and accepts

the glass’s magic. He passes by aware

and knows it’s there and uses it but

doesn’t think about it much. It’s part of him.

He looks and laughs and gapes and points and cries

into the glass to soothe his passing fancies

and goes on. His life is like a song that fades

and lingers.

.                       . But the ape is clever

and his wit cleaves he and it, and worries

out the difference till his wit’s division

grows into a second nature, savvier

than the first, more savage, that the ape had learned

to live and love. Now the glass is dark and strange

and rearranges shadows into ghosts

that feign and frighten him. He blinks and thinks

and looks behind the glass.

.                                                      . Recognition flits

and passes. Now he’s grown aware he thinks

he knows its magic and is angered by it

though the wonder lingers. Now he raises up

three fingers and beholds them in the glass;

he counts them and considers shapes and sizes.

He’s satisfied and now decides the time

has come. He grips a stone and aims and throws.

The shattered glass gapes back and points and laughs.


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