“Say what you mean. Bear witness. Iterate.”

I went on an interesting journey online last night that led me to the source of the above phrase, a poem on mortality, entropy, memory… and databases. Yes, you read that right.

I read Tor.com’s wonderful blog almost once a day to check up posts on books, favorite sci-fi and fantasy TV Series, and more. Yesterday they had a post featuring a striking photograph by Cat Valente of some haunting graffiti with the title of of this post scrawled out. She had recognized the line from an earlier post in Tor.com’s Poetry Month series, “John M. Ford’s sonnet ‘Against Entropy’”. Reading the comments in that post led to the original source of the poem, where it was written and shared for the first time.

In 2003 Patrick Nielsen Hayden posted about how moved he was by Andrew Brown’s writing about the slow and terrible death of a friend’s wife. He lamented, If I were a better writer I’d conclude by yoking the trivial to the tragic, relating the twin inevitabilities of death and database error by means of a rhetorical figure involving worms.. In the comments of that post, John M. Ford, the writer Neil Gaiman said of, my best critic … the best writer I knew, wrote the following:

The worm drives helically through the wood
And does not know the dust left in the bore
Once made the table integral and good;
And suddenly the crystal hits the floor.
Electrons find their paths in subtle ways,
A massless eddy in a trail of smoke;
The names of lovers, light of other days –
Perhaps you will not miss them. That’s the joke.
The universe winds down. That’s how it’s made.
But memory is everything to lose;
Although some of the colors have to fade,
Do not believe you’ll get the chance to choose.
Regret, by definition, comes too late;
Say what you mean. Bear witness. Iterate.

A poem, written in a blog post comment in 2003, shows up on a physical wall in 2012.

The poem speaks loudly about the ends of things, our role, and even the work I do, which has everything to do with building systems that can adapt and grow in the face of bit rot and lack of attention.

Damn it, I don’t care if it isn’t hip, I still love the Web.

One thought on ““Say what you mean. Bear witness. Iterate.”

  1. I’m with you, Karl. The web is pretty damn cool. We’re definitely into the “taken for granted” stage though.

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