Benjamin Read's code garden.

Code really is Poetry

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This article is about: personal

I’m not sure if you remember the early days of the web. I can. I remember when my friend and I would sit at home, bored of talking about Babylon 5 (yes, really) and yet not wanting to part company again.

”Let’s try to get on the internet!” I would excitedly yelp, and plug in the 14.4k modem, dial into Apple’s eWorld online community, and download an early version of Mosaic or Netscape.

It never worked.

Mostly because my mum kept noticing the £400 extra on the telephone bill each time we tried. So we stuck to writing science fiction stories and, after a brush with classics (via an old copy of This Side of Paradise by F Scott Fitzgerald), I started to get into poetry.

Poetry represented for me the biggest leap in my adolescent life so far. My interests went from material that could be taken at face-value, or so was my perspective at the time, to deeper things with hidden meaning.

Every time I tried to comprehend a poem it seemed to change depending on my mood, on how I read each word and stanza. I was genuinely moved by things I could barely understand … the underpinning structure and esoteric references being quite alien to my understanding.

The Poets Write HTML #

I’m not sure if you’ll remember also that many of the first users of the web were writers, if not poets?

For them, the internet represented freedom … absolute freedom to be published no matter the quality of their writing, no matter the popularity or availability (or distinct lack thereof) of willing publishers. A writer could reach an audience of millions just by learning to write a few lines of code.

But code was pretty hard to grapple with. One poem titled “The Poet Writes HTML” published in Cardiff’s The Yellow Crane told how the author felt he was getting further and further away from writing because of the time he spent learning to code. For many years, that account alone turned me away from technology altogether.

But when I came back … that was when a new revelation hit me.

The Language of the Internet #

At once, there was a new world of hidden meaning and esoteric references, whose structure I was only beginning to comprehend. Code could be controlled, tamed, be bent to your will. It could be made to sit, roll over and beg like a dog. I found it truly is a language with all that implies: a language made up of words with meanings that once again had weight and mystery and consequences.”

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“Wisest are they who know they do not know.”

— Jostein Gaarder