Crumbs From the Corner: Adventures in Woolgathering

Friday, February 22, 2008


Survivor, by Roger McGough

I think about dying.
About disease, starvation,
violence, terrorism, war,
the end of the world.

It helps
keep my mind off things.

In Krakatoa in 1883 the force of the volcano that erupted was so mighty it could be heard by people at about a distance of 2000 miles and is today considered to have produced the loudest sound ever recorded on Earth. The power was at least 13000 times that of the force which devastated Hiroshima in Japan.
If 1883 seems like a distant speck of dust behind us, perhaps some perspective is necessary.
In the same year, the Brooklyn Bridge was opened, as was the University of Texas at Austin. The machine gun was patented; there were postage stamps and bicycles. The passenger train, The Orient Express, took its first run from Paris to Romania. Elmer Maytag, founder of the washing machine manufacturing company, was born.
It is difficult to be horrified at an earth-shattering tragedy that took place so long ago. With a second glance, however, one comes to feel that the inhabitants of Krakatoa and surrounding lands who were so dreadfully affected by the eruption of the volcano lived in a world surprisingly similar to our own.
It is always this way. People are people, of course, whether they left records behind or not; whether they enjoyed the same means of entertainment; whether we have any single connection to them other than sharing the same planet, albeit vast time spans apart.
I admit truthfully that I did this small study as a lesson to myself. I had not thought of the world in 1883 as being so close to ours; it turns out that civilisation was but a heartbeat away from modern household appliances and contemporary societal laws.
As one trawls further back in time, though, it becomes more of a struggle to find a connection that inspires awe or sadness. Perspective, and some study are all that is essential.
If, in the course of our learning we should happen to become particularly adept at understanding the hearts and minds of people we previously felt nothing for; if we should come to know that our own doorstep is not the ultimate location for pivotal worldly events, then we might, perhaps, venture to tidy up our present century and attempt to provoke ourselves into some much absent brotherly spirit.

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