Sep. 4, 2012

The Highway

by W. S. Merwin

It seems too enormous just for a man to be
Walking on. As if it and the empty day
Were all there is. And a little dog
Trotting in time with the heat waves, off
Near the horizon, seeming never to get
Any farther. The sun and everything
Are stuck in the same places, and the ditch
Is the same all the time, full of every kind
Of bone, while the empty air keeps humming
That sound it has memorized of things going
Past. And the signs with huge heads and starved
Bodies, doing dances in the heat,
And the others big as houses, all promise
But with nothing inside and only one wall,
Tell of other places where you can eat,
Drink, get a bath, lie on a bed
Listening to music, and be safe. If you
Look around you see it is just the same
The other way, going back; and farther
Now to where you came from, probably,
Than to places you can reach by going on.

"The Highway" by W.S. Merwin, from The First Four Books of Poems. © Copper Canyon Press, 2000. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It was on this day in 1998 that Google was first incorporated as a company. Google was the brainchild of two Ph.D. students at Stanford University, Larry Page and Sergey Brin. They designed a search engine with one important difference from all the others: Instead of giving you results based on how many times your search term appeared on a Web page, they created software that would figure out how many times each relevant website was linked to from other relevant websites and sorted those and then laid them out for you, all on a clear, simple screen. Google is now an incredibly powerful and profitable company. In June of 2006, "Google" was added to the Oxford English Dictionary as a verb.

It's the birthday of the man who said, "The artist must bow to the monster of his own imagination." That's writer Richard Wright (books by this author), born on a plantation near Natchez, Mississippi (1908). He's the author of Black Boy (1945), White Man, Listen! (1957), and American Hunger (1997), as well as a number of short stories and a volume of haiku.

But he's best known for his novel Native Son (1940), about a black man named Bigger Thomas who gets a job as a chauffeur for beautiful young white woman and accidentally kills her. Native Son was a huge best-seller when it came out, and was soon afterward made into a Broadway musical. It's now required reading at many high schools across the country.

Richard Wright said, "I would hurl words into this darkness and wait for an echo, and if an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight, to create a sense of hunger for life that gnaws in us all."

This day in 1666 was the most destructive day of the Great Fire of London, which began a few days before. People had spent the previous couple of days scurrying to get their prized possessions out of the path of the fire, and diarist Samuel Pepys wrote about how chaos and confusion filled the streets, with people running and riding around, pushing carts full of their belongings, and "the fire coming on in that narrow streete, on both sides, with infinite fury."

He wrote: "Only now and then walking into the garden, and saw how horridly the sky looks, all on a fire in the night, was enough to put us out of our wits; and, indeed, it was extremely dreadful, for it looks just as if it was at us; and the whole heaven on fire. I after supper walked in the darke down to Tower-streete, and there saw it all on fire, at the Trinity House on that side, and the Dolphin Taverne on this side, which was very near us; and the fire with extraordinary vehemence."

The system of firefighting basically involved demolishing houses in the path of the fire in the hopes of creating a firebreak. He said that "practice of blowing up of houses … next to the Tower ... at first did frighten people more than anything, but it stopped the fire where it was done."

The following day, September 5, the Great Fire was officially over. It had all started on September 2, when the king's baker, located on Pudding Lane, had neglected to turn the ovens off all of the way. Historians estimate that the Great Fire destroyed the homes of 70,000 of London's 80,000 residents, as well as almost 90 churches, most of the city's official buildings, St. Paul's Cathedral, and all of medieval London located within the old Roman city wall.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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