• Emily Heilman

Surviving History

Inspired by Tylor, Edward Burnett. “Chapter III: Survival in Culture.” In The Origins of Culture, 70–111. Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1958.


I. History survives in leisure,

pastimes carry the weight of tradition;

Children are bearers of the past,

their games recall the ancient ways.


Our histories, trivialized and forgotten,

remembered but not headed,

children should be our wisemen:

For in youth they are sacred and just,

while we are prudent, profane.


II. Scorned, we leave wisdom to the children.

Survival by ancestral authority in the very teeth of common sense

and we gnaw at innovation

economizing each synthetic remedy and

abandoning the old acumen that says

this—this is the way—

but now we are making money,

making ways to make money, and when

those ways need patching

we economize the acumen

of our forebears for profit.


III. A stream once settled in its bed will flow for ages

and it will twist and turn, and carve new paths for itself.

So we tell our fathers what they meant, and

what they should have believed.

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