Children of the Future

Children of the Future

One of the marks of modern times is that masses of ordinary people have come to believe that their children’s lives could be a lot better than their own. Over the last two centuries, as the world has opened up, this belief has become one of the driving forces for mass migration. People sell all they have, travel steerage, often declass themselves, anything to get out; when they land, they live in wretched slums, work themselves to death in jobs the natives won’t accept, put up with vicious insults and injuries (and every time and place has a racist and xenophobic repertory all its own), subject themselves to enormous amounts of crap, and alles fur die kindelech, everything for the kids, as they used to say when I was a kid. They still say it, the Russian bakers and Indian stationers and Korean fruit-and-vegetable people on my block, and the parents of my students at CCNY, in more languages than I can keep track of. Their deepest belief—sometimes, it seems, their only belief—is a belief in progress. “Children of the future age,” William Blake’s lyrical invocation, evokes this romantic faith. The speaker in Blake’s poem is wretched in the present age, but confident that his (her?) children’s generation will enjoy a glorious future; the children of the future will be so free and radiant that they will need poetry to feel and understand their parents’ inner wounds.

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Lima