HINC SPES AFFULGET
Rising an hour early because we forgot that the clocks went back last night, I caught a Radio 4 programme squeezed between the early news & Farming Today. It was called Hope Against Hope & it consisted of pieces of music & extracts from poems on the theme of hope, compiled by Geoffrey Smith, who also provided the commentary.
A small truth that I have uncovered is that what you hear on the radio whilst in the bath remains in place. Hope Against Hope needed no such context to make an impression: it was a small but perfectly formed programme. And it resonated the more for me because it contained three favourite pieces of music with which I have always associated a sense of hope & redemption – Big Bill Broonzy’s Trouble In Mind (not the definitive version of the classic blues by any means, but the first I ever heard), the closing bars of Sibelius’ 5th Symphony, & the glorious Spem In Alium by Thomas Tallis.
However, I’ve always been a deeply reluctant optimist. Most of my friends see me as something of a harbinger of doom who, when contemplating probabilities, will predict decay & dereliction over broad, sunlit uplands. I am, to the shamelessly positive, a curmudgeonly Eeyore amongst relentlessly cheery Christopher Robins.
This is a fiction I am anxious to maintain. Apart from the simple fact that most people want to beat cockeyed optimists about the head & upper body when they pipe up with, “Oh, it’ll all work out in the end, you mark my words”, I’m actually terrified of the implications & obligations of hope. I’m with John Cleeses’s Brian Stimpson, hapless hero of that bafflingly underrated film Clockwise, when he moans: “It's not the despair, Laura. I can take the despair. It's the hope I can't stand". Hope is tumour that infects the entire human constitution, rendering dignified resignation in the face of irresistible force impossible. Hope is for heroes & I don’t have a heroic bone in my body.
And yet how the blood stirs in an increasingly obdurate, implacable world when one reads the greats on hope…
- A favourite, this one.
'Hope' is the thing with feathers,
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tunes without the words,
And never stops at all.
- A Catholic Buddhist, no less. Like C.S. Lewis, a theologist eminently readable for an atheist.
Do not depend on the hope of results. You may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results, but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself. You gradually struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. In the end, it is the reality of personal relationship that saves everything.
If you want to build a ship, don't herd people together to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.
Antoine de Saint-Exupery
- With Primo Levi, the most powerful of the documenters of the Holocaust.
I have learned two lessons in my life: first, there are no sufficient literary, psychological, or historical answers to human tragedy, only moral ones. Second, just as despair can come to one another only from other human beings, hope, too, can be given to one only by other human beings.
We judge of man's wisdom by his hope.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
- A poem largely forgotten but for this quoted line.
A man's reach should exceed his grasp; else what's a heaven for?
Robert Browning (‘Andrea del Sarto’)
He who has never hoped can never despair.
George Bernard Shaw (‘Caesar and Cleopatra’)
The natural flights of the human mind are not from pleasure to pleasure but from hope to hope.
- Two men of similar breath.
You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.
We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.
None who have always been free can understand the terrible fascinating power of the hope of freedom to those who are not free.
Pearl S. Buck
If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost:
that is where they should be. Now, put foundations under them.
Henry David Thoreau
The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise.
F. Scott Fitzgerald.
We must stitch up what has been torn apart, render justice imaginable in the world which is so obviously unjust, make happiness meaningful for nations poisoned by the misery of this century. Naturally, it is a superhuman task. But tasks are called superhuman when men take a long time to complete them, that is all.
Hope is a waking dream.
- A cracked romantic speaks.
Desperation is the raw material of drastic change. Only those who can leave behind everything they have ever believed in can hope to escape.
William S. Burroughs.
- In with two shouts.
Est autem fides credere quod nondum vides;
cuius fidei merces est videre quod credis.
(Faith is in believing what you do not see;
the reward of this faith is in seeing what you believe.)
Hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are anger and courage; anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.
Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense regardless of how it turns out.
"Hope is a good breakfast, but it is a bad supper."
Sir Francis Bacon
- Never the counsellor of despair; always one who pointed out that hope requires the abandonment of ambition & expectation.
Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.
Samuel Beckett (‘Worstward Ho, 1983)