The Invention of Streetlights
noctes illustratas (the night has houses) and the shadow of the fabulous broken into handfuls--these can be placed at regular intervals, candles walking down streets at times eclipsed by trees. Certain cells, it's said, can generate light on their own. There are organisms that could fit on the head of a pin and light entire rooms. Throughout the Middle Ages, you could hire a man on any corner with a torch to light you home were lamps made of horn and from above a loom of moving flares, we watched Notre Dame seem small. Now the streets stand still. By 1890, it took a pound of powdered magnesium to photograph a midnight ball. While as early as 50 BCE, riotous soldiers leaving a Roman bath sliced through the ropes that hung the lamps from tree to tree and aloft us this new and larger room Flambeaux the arboreal was the life of Julius Caesar in whose streets in which a single step could rd. We opened all our windows and looked out on a listening world laced here and there with points of light, Notre Dame of the Unfinished Sky, oil slicks burning on the river; someone down on the corner striking a match to read by. Some claim Paris was the first modern city to light its streets. The inhabitants were ordered in 1524 to place a taper in every window in the dark there were 912 streets walked into this arc until by stars makes steps sharp, you are and are not alone by public decree October 1558: the lanterns were similar to those used in mines: "Once we were kings" and down into the spiral of our riches still reign: falots or great vases of pitch lit at the crossroads --and thus were we followed through a city of thieves--which, but a few weeks later, were replaced by chandeliers. While others claim all London was alight by 1414. There it was worded: Out of every window, come a wrist with a lanthorn and were told hold it there and be on time and not before and watched below the faces lit, and watched the faces pass. And turned back in (the face goes on) and watched the lights go out. Here the numbers are instructive: In the early 18th century, London hung some 15,000 lamps. And now we find (1786) they've turned to crystal, placed precisely each its own distance, small in islands, large in the time it would take to run. And Venice started in 1687 with a bell upon the hearing of which, we all in unison exit, match in hand, and together strike them against an upper tooth and touch the tiny flame to anything, and when times get rough (crime up, etc.) all we have to do is throw oil out upon the canals to make the lighting uncommonly extensive. Sometimes we do it just to shock the rest of Europe, and at other times because we find it beautiful. Says Libanius Night differs us Without us noctes illustratas Though in times of public grief when the streets were left unlit, on we went, just dark marks in the markets and voices in the cafes, in the crowded squares, a single touch, the living, a lantern swinging above the door any time a child is born, be it Antioch, Syria, or Edessa-- and then there were the festivals, the festum encaeniorum, and others in which they call idolatrous, these torches half a city wide be your houses.
From Goest by Cole Swensen. Copyright © 2004 by Cole Swensen. Reprinted by permission of Alice James Books. All rights reserved.