None may the future read correctly. True,
A chosen few whom Heaven endows with sight
Beyond their fellows,—a prescience rare,—
May, peering through the veil that drops before,
Discern in part that which the years will bring.
But few, indeed, are these; and even they
See as one sees in visions of the night,
By vague, uncertain, half-revealing light,
And more like dreaming does their vision seem.
Such were the prophets and the bards of old.
"He, who lone in Patmos banished,
Saw in the sun a mighty angel stand,
And heard great Babylon’s doom pronounced by God’s command.”*
Such is the real statesman, seen but once
Amongst a generation’s mighty hosts,
Who, from the ship of state can look ahead
And note the dangers that beset her course,
And lift the warning voice, and point the way
To peaceful seas through danger’s wrecking shoals.
And such, in part, are those whose judgment clear
Anticipates the future by their acts
And calmly bide Time’s day to ratify.
But we the Present have; and we the Past
May seize upon and hold, if we are wise.
If, in our private lives we may have stepped
To the oblique from rectitude’s straight march,
It but remains for us to compensate
By better course of conduct; but we may,
By action which inspires Pocumtuck’s sons,
In a broad sense the shrouded Past restore,
And give ourselves and public life to come
Proofs tangible, and undisputed facts
Of matters, manners, men and things that were,
And which Oblivion would surely hide.
From his deep grave no resurrection springs.
So, customs of our own, our implements,
Our civil rules, our business methods,—all
That makes and moves the living man to-day,
A hundred decades hence may be to those
Then on the fields which we now occupy,
Objects of interest great, and wonder, too.
Then may the Future say: Those people had
Some knowledge of the way things should be done;
Their search for learning of the hidden powers,
Cloistered in Nature’s store-house, did them good,
And in their life’s economy did aid,
Till they their antecedents far outrun.
Then may our arts, and all our fine machines.
That show intelligence, almost, in work;
Our various uses of expansive steam;
And of the subtle lightnings we’ve evoked
And tamed for use;—our wondrous telephone;
Voices of music, speeches, sermons canned
And stored away, as thrifty housewives do
Their choice confections; these, and like thereto,
Which are our scientific pride and boast.
May to the future man seem tame compared
With his superior skill and methods new.
May be some other relics from our day:—
Ascension robes from Miller’s pattern cut ;
The deft contrivance that up-conjures ghosts,—
Things of that ilk, too numerous to name,
May waken interest and elicit smiles.
Then may discoursings of our friends to-day
Be read and heard with double interest;
(If that were possible),—a brilliant page
In records running back a thousand years.
Perhaps a lock of our Grand Master’s beard,
Saved in a shell of most translucent pearl,
May be a shrine of gratefulest regard
Of one whose aim and spring of action were
To fix the Present and restore the Past,
And whose devotion and most thoughtful care
Filled up for them the lamp of by-gone days.
Are we mistaken? Has our fond regard
For human progress warped our mental view
Of the great Future? Can it come to pass
That when a few more wonders of our time,
Marvels of science and of art, are found,
Till we become as gods in knowledges,—
A mighty, jealous power shall supervene.
Revulsion, revolution dire occur;
Forgetfulness, impenetrable gloom,
Blotting the brilliant science of the age,
Shall fall on man and cast his status back
To Babel’s lost, disintegrated base?
Forbid it, Power Supreme! Amen. Amen.
- Josiah D. Canning, read at the 1881 meeting of the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association
* From "The Cotter's Saturday Night" by Robert Burns