The Rabbit and the Duck


You'll find this drawing in visual perception books. Is it a rabbit looking left or a duck looking right? Suppose that you only noticed the duck. You might say "Even I could do a better duck than that".

Just as the drawing isn't "really a duck", so some poems aren't about just one thing. Saying that "the duck could be better" (without considering the consequences of the change for the rabbit) misses the point.

Of course, a poem is full of compromises, but the rabbit/duck is an example of a situation where the two aspects have equal status. Were the conflict between form and content, for example, or one aspect was on the surface and the other somehow hidden, then the decision about which aspect should be damaged for the sake of the other might be clearer. But here, both aspects are equally plain, though one may turn into the other even as we look.

The example challenges simplistic views on symbol-world correspondances. Representationalism isn't abandoned, it's subverted. People who don't find the correspondance between words and the world problematic object to such work because they think

That said, the Rabbit/Duck remains an example from psychology books. Art objects exist though. Dali (e.g. 'Slave Market with invisible Bust of Voltaire', 1940) and in particular Escher are amongst the practitioners. The precise Escher puns are hard to replicate in words, though examples exists
   Still lonely, a boy far from shore, knowing
   it was finished, all over, gone. No missed ache.
   still only a boy, far from sure. No ring -
   it was finished, a lover gone. No mistake
   (from 'Not Waving')
More common is where one aspect dominates, but there's a strong consistent allusion.
   Our words engage quite cleverly sometimes
   across the dark square room,
   all disagreements so cautiously unsaid
   in a white maze where we never meet
   (from 'No more cross words')

Updated Mar, 1997 (quotes are from the author's poems)
Tim Love

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