Oct. 5, 2005

The Future

by Wendell Berry

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Poem: "The Future" by Wendell Berry, from Given © Shoemaker Hoard. Reprinted with permission.

The Future

For God's sake, be done
with this jabber of "a better world."
What blasphemy! No "futuristic"
twit or child thereof ever
in embodied light will see
a better world than this, though they
foretell inevitably a worse.
Do something! Go cut the weeds
beside the oblivious road. Pick up
the cans and bottles, old tires,
and dead predictions. No future
can be stuffed into this presence
except by being dead. The day is
clear and bright, and overhead
the sun not yet half finished
with his daily praise.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of Jonathan Edwards, born in South Windsor, Connecticut (1703). He was a popular preacher of his day. He was considered the leader of the Great Awakening, the great religious revival that swept across the eastern United States before the revolution.

It's the birthday of the French encyclopedist Denis Diderot, born in Langres, France (1713). Over the course of 20 years, he wrote his great Encyclopedia—not only wrote it, but typeset it himself by hand. Denis Diderot said, "The world is the house of the strong. I shall not know until the end what I have lost or won in this place, in this vast gambling den where I've spent more than 60 years, dicebox in hand, shaking the dice."

It's the birthday of the Irish author Flann O'Brien, born Brian O'Nolan in Strabane, Ireland (1911). He was a civil servant in Dublin. He wrote in his spare time. His masterpiece was considered to be At Swim-Two Birds, which came out in 1939. It's a book with three beginnings, three endings, three different strands running alongside each other for the length of the book. It's a book about a man writing a novel about a novelist.

It's the birthday of one of the few writers ever to become the leader of a country, and that was Vaclav Havel, born in Prague (1936), to a well-to-do family. He was a teenager when the family's property was seized by the Communists as they took control of the country.

In the 1960s, Havel wrote a series of absurdist plays, including The Garden Party and The Memorandum, attacking the Communist Party. He spent the 1980s in and out of prison, writing plays that he could not see performed in his own country. In 1989, after he was arrested and imprisoned yet one more time, he was released because thousands of people protested. He had become a national hero. And after the collapse of the Communist regime, he helped negotiate the transition to democracy and, in December '89, was elected president.

It was Vaclav Havel who said, "If you want to see your plays performed the way you wrote them, become president."

It's the birthday of the short story writer and novelist Edward P. Jones, born in Arlington, Virginia (1950). He was raised in Washington, D.C. by his mother who couldn't read or write. She washed dishes and worked as a maid to support the family. To support his mother and himself, he edited a publication about tax law called Tax Notes.

Then in 1992, he came out with a collection called Lost in the City, stories about African Americans living in the capital. It got awards. It got him a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, out of which came his first novel The Known World, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

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