- It’s difficult in times like these: ideals, dreams and cherished hope rise within us, only to be crushed by grim reality. It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at It’s utterly impossible for me to build my life on a foundation of chaos, suffering and death. I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness, I hear the approaching thunder one day, will destroy us too, I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too will end, that peace and tranquility will return once more. In the meantime must hold on to my ideals. Perhaps the day will come when I’ll be able to realize them! [Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl.]
Hope is a conviction: a belief coupled with a feeling that great things are possible. It should not be dogmatic or unreasoning, though it may seem unreasonable. That is because we assess what is possible, and sometimes our assessment is wrong. We overlook most of the possibilities in our lives. Yet we can easily assume that hope is unrealistic merely because we do not see how the desired end is possible.
People need hope, especially when our situation seems impossible. Our challenge is not to maintain our connection to reality as we strive to expand the parameters of what that reality might be.
- Rania Abouzeid, No Turning Back: Life, Loss, and Hope in Wartime Syria (W.W. Norton & Company, 2018): “Her narrative of the unending Syrian war from 2011 through 2016 and into 2017 offers page after page of extraordinary reporting and many flashes of exquisitely descriptive prose. But it is the characters around whom the story is built who make the book unforgettable, as Abouzeid threads together their stories of hope and loss in a country where ‘the dead are not merely nameless, reduced to figures. They are not even numbers.’”
- Mikhail Nesterov, Capri. Almond Trees in Blossom (1908)
- Gustav Klimt, Hope II (1907)
- Gustav Klimt, Hope I (1903)
- Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Between Hope and Fear (1876)
- Karl Bryullov, Hope Feeding Love (1824)
- Peter Bruegel the Elder, Hope (c. 1560)
- Giotto, Hope (1306)
- Oskar Kokoschka, Fear and Hope (1914)
- Frida Kahlo, Without Hope (1945)
Film and Stage
On the shadow side:
Music: Composers, artists, and major works
- Vaughan Williams, The Lark Ascending
- English choral music: Vaughan Williams, Elgar, Finzi, Butterworth, Delius, Stanford
- Schubert, String Quartet No. 8 in B flat major, D 112
- Kernis, Air for Violin
- Kenessey, Shades of Darkness, for clarinet quintet, begins with brooding and agitation, turns tense but winds its way to “a great outburst of pent-up energy,” according to the composer.
- Janáček: Violin Sonata, JW7/7 (1914), evokes the hope of being liberated (the background was Czechoslovakia during World War I).
- Gibbons, Hymnes & Songs of the Church: Songs of Hope
- Zaimont, Meditations at the Time of the New Year (1997): the two movements are “Dawn” and “Hope”.
- Raga Gaud Sarang, a Hindustani classical raag for early afternoon, usually evokes a hopeful and energetic mood in performance (performances by Purbayan Chaterjee, Ulhas Kashalkar, and Ali Akbar Khan).
- Raga Misra Kafi (Mishra Kafi), a Hindustani classical raag for late evening (performances by Nikhil Banerjee and Budhaditya Mukherjee)
From the dark side:
- Rautavaara, The House of the Sun (1989), is an opera that alludes to imaginary survivors of Russia’s last tsar. It is an allegory of decline and despair.
- Aho, Rejoicing of the Deep Waters (Syvien vesien juhla) (1995): a woman drowns herself but a boy whose father had also committed suicide, finds meaning and purpose in life.
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,
And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.
I've heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.
[Emily Dickinson, “’Hope’ Is the Thing With Feathers”]
[Cosette may never see Marius again. Nevertheless:]
Cosette had slept only a few hours, but soundly. She had had sweet dreams, which possibly arose from the fact that her little bed was very white. Some one, who was Marius, had appeared to her in the light. She awoke with the sun in her eyes, which, at first, produced on her the effect of being a continuation of her dream. Her first thought on emerging from this dream was a smiling one. Cosette felt herself thoroughly reassured. Like Jean Valjean, she had, a few hours previously, passed through that reaction of the soul which absolutely will not hear of unhappiness. She began to cherish hope, with all her might, without knowing why. Then she felt a pang at her heart. It was three days since she had seen Marius. But she said to herself that he must have received her letter, that he knew where she was, and that he was so clever that he would find means of reaching her.--And that certainly to-day, and perhaps that very morning.--It was broad daylight, but the rays of light were very horizontal; she thought that it was very early, but that she must rise, nevertheless, in order to receive Marius. She felt that she could not live without Marius, and that, consequently, that was sufficient and that Marius would come. No objection was valid. All this was certain. It was monstrous enough already to have suffered for three days. Marius absent three days, this was horrible on the part of the good God. Now, this cruel teasing from on high had been gone through with. Marius was about to arrive, and he would bring good news. Youth is made thus; it quickly dries its eyes; it finds sorrow useless and does not accept it. Youth is the smile of the future in the presence of an unknown quantity, which is itself. It is natural to it to be happy. It seems as though its respiration were made of hope. [Victor Hugo, Les Misérables (1862), Volume V – Jean Valjean; Book First – The War Between Four Walls, Chapter X, Dawn.]
- Katherine Marsh, Nowhere Boy (Roaring Book Press, 2018): a book for young readers that “tells the story of Ahmed Nasser, a Syrian teenager who flees his home to escape the civil war that killed his sisters, mother and grandfather.”
- Michael Cunningham, The Snow Queen: A Novel (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2014): “Many things happen in this book, yet its prose is unhurried and sensuous. ‘The Snow Queen’ takes hold of you in a manner that feels almost primal, the way a fragrance wafts into a room and changes your mood, before you even realize it.”
- Leah Hager Cohen, The Grief of Others: A Novel (Riverhead Books, 2011): “Leah Hager Cohen drives home our ability to attach to something small and doomed simply because it exists.”
- Shalom Auslander, Hope: A Tragedy: A Novel (Riverhead Books, 2012): “A man seeking peace moves his family to rural New York. Then he discovers Anne Frank in the attic.”
- Dierdre McNamer, Aviary: A Novel (Milkweed, 2021): the theme is ongoingness, set in a retirement home.
- Marilynne Robinson, Jack: A Novel (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2020): about a minister’s troubled son.
- Lily King, Writers & Lovers: A Novel (Grove Press, 2020): “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Woman on the Road to Happiness”.
“Sixteen-year-old girls with cancer are the heroines” in these two novels for young adults:
- John Green, The Fault In Our Stars (Dutton Books, 2012).
- Wendy Wunder, The Probability of Miracles (Razorbill, 2012).
From the dark side:
Since she had been there, she had neither waked nor slept. In that misfortune, in that cell, she could no longer distinguish her waking hours from slumber, dreams from reality, any more than day from night. All this was mixed, broken, floating, disseminated confusedly in her thought. She no longer felt, she no longer knew, she no longer thought; at the most, she only dreamed. Never had a living creature been thrust more deeply into nothingness.
Thus benumbed, frozen, petrified, she had barely noticed on two or three occasions, the sound of a trapdoor opening somewhere above her, without even permitting the passage of a little light, and through which a hand had tossed her a bit of black bread. Nevertheless, this periodical visit of the jailer was the sole communication which was left her with mankind.
A single thing still mechanically occupied her ear; above her head, the dampness was filtering through the mouldy stones of the vault, and a drop of water dropped from them at regular intervals. She listened stupidly to the noise made by this drop of water as it fell into the pool beside her.
This drop of water falling from time to time into that pool, was the only movement which still went on around her, the only clock which marked the time, the only noise which reached her of all the noise made on the surface of the earth.
To tell the whole, however, she also felt, from time to time, in that cesspool of mire and darkness, something cold passing over her foot or her arm, and she shuddered. [Victor Hugo, Notre-Dame de Paris, or, The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1831), Volume II, Book Eighth, Chapter IV, “Lasciate Ogni Speranza – Leave All Hope Behind, Ye Who Enter Here”.]