From the bleak mid-winter of our souls, we emerge into hope. Hoping, as opposed to living in despair, is a foundation.
- 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.’”
- Andrea Elliott, Invisible Child: Poverty, Survival and Hope in an American City (Random House, 2021): “Dasani’s charm contrasted brutally with her degrading and dangerous surroundings.”
- Abe Streep, Brothers on Three: A True Story of Family, Resistance, and Hope on a Reservation in Montana (Celadon Books, 2021): “. . . journalist Abe Streep follows the Arlee Warriors, a Montana high school team that embodies the high-speed, whip-pass, all-for-one spirit of reservation basketball. Streep follows the Warriors through a historic season, but his real interest lies in the lives of the players and their families on the Flathead Indian Reservation, along with the network of coaches, teachers and friends who invest so much of themselves in this scrappy, mighty basketball team.”
- 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
Ralph Vaughan Williams, The Lark Ascending (1914) (approx. 15-17’) is “based on a lovely British poem from the 1880s that describes an English skylark in flight.” Top performances feature Hugh Bean, Iona Brown, Nigel Kennedy, Hilary Hahn, Tasmin Little and Jennifer Pike.
English choral music in the Romantic and into the Modern era is characteristically affirmational, yet serious in tone. “One of the reasons choral culture was so prevalent in Great Britain at the beginning of the 20th century was because by the second half of the 19th century encouraging singing had become a kind of paternalistic moral philanthropy. Musical leaders, such as John Curwen, promoted music by teaching singing to the working and middle classes as a leisure-time activity that was deemed ‘distracting’ (in the best sense of the word), ‘healthy’, and ‘rational’. Group choral singing was thought to create strong social bonds, and undergoing such pursuits, the singer would not have time (or as much time) to engage in other, more problematic behaviours, like drinking, smoking or gambling.” It was a way of giving people hope. Among the greatest composers in this genre are:
- Franz Schubert, String Quartet No. 8 in B flat major, D 112 (1814) (approx. 26-30’): “. . . the entire quartet has a certain sameness of tone, that sort of slightly somber tranquillity from the second movement, which hints to Schubert's serious approach to the work. The final Presto, finished on September 13, tries as best it can to shed that heavy cloak by its spirited and brisk composure. Remarkably, it also anticipates certain elements of his ‘Great' C major Symphony.”
- Aaron Jay Kernis, Air for Violin and Orchestra (1996) (approx. 12’): “Air is a love letter to the violin. Songlike and lyrical, it opens up a full range of the instrument's expressive and poignant possibilities.”
- Stefania de Kenessey, Shades of Darkness, for clarinet quintet (approx. 29’), begins with brooding and agitation, turns tense but winds its way to “a great outburst of pent-up energy,” according to the composer.
- Leoš Janáček, Violin Sonata, JW7/7 (1914) (approx. 16-17’), evokes the hope of being liberated (the background was Czechoslovakia during World War I).
- Orlando Gibbons, Hymnes & Songs of the Church: Songs of Hope
- Judith Lang Zaimont, Meditations at the Time of the New Year (1997) (approx. 13’): the two movements are “Dawn” and “Hope”.
- Raga Gaud Sarang, a Hindustani classical raag for early afternoon, usually evokes a hopeful and energetic mood. Performances are by Nikhil Banerjee, Kishori Amonkar, Purbayan Chaterjee, Ulhas Kashalkar, and Ali Akbar Khan.
- Raga Misra Kafi (Mishra Kafi) is a Hindustani classical raag for late evening. Performances are by Nikhil Banerjee and Budhaditya Mukherjee.
- Mieczysław Weinberg, Symphony No. 2 for string orchestra, Op. 30 (1946) (approx. 34’) offers glimmers of hope peeking out through powerlessness. The symphony’s mood meshes with the end for World War II.
- Žibuoklė Martinaitytė, Ex tenebris lux (2021) (approx. 24’): “The Latin title of this piece translates as ‘from darkness comes light.’ For me this saying seems to symbolize some hopeful thought in the face of the current pandemic and the uncertainty arising from it. To have and to hold onto that ray of light emitted by your inner compass without loosing sight of it even in the darkest moments... My wish was that this music would guide the listener through a prolonged zone of darkness, ultimately bringing them to light and allowing them to experience it.”
- George Enescu, Fantaisie for Piano and Orchestra (1896) (approx. 20’)
- Joseph Tawadros, “Hope in an Empty City” (2021) (78’) “has mediative serene tracks, some gorgeous solo oud and some of the highest energy music he’s ever produced.” “Before COVD hit, I ventured into a New York studio with four innovative musicians and we came up with some solid, quite surprising tracks – flavoured with Middle Eastern and jazz elements – and creating a lush, spacious organic sound . . .”
- Kate McGarry & Keith Ganz Ensemble, “What to Wear in the Dark” (2021) (62’): “The drive to beat back despair, whether it’s the social pressure bearing down in Steely Dan’s ‘Barrytown’ or the passing of a lifestyle in the Eagles’ 'Desperado,' animates this exceptional album.”
- Mahsa Vahdat & Marjan Vahdat, “Twinklings of Hope” (2011) (66’): “Born in Tehran in the 1970s, Mahsa and Marjan Vahdat are sisters, who give fully-public concerts in many countries, but not in their own land.”
- Soweto Gospel Choir, “Hope” (2022) (54’) is “. . . dedicated to recognizing Black lives globally, through songs of struggle from the civil rights movement in the U.S. to the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa and Namibia.”
From the dark side:
- String Quartet No. 1 in A Minor, Op. 7, Sz 40 (1908). (approx. 30’);
- String Quartet No. 2, Op. 17, Sz 67, BB (1917) (approx. 27’);
- String Quartet No. 3 in C-sharp Minor, Sz 85, BB 93 (1927) (approx. 15-16’);
- String Quartet No. 4, Sz 91, BB (1928) (approx. 23’);
- String Quartet No. 5 in B-flat Major, Sz 102, BB 110 (1934) (approx. 30’); and
- String Quartet No. 6 in D Minor, Sz 114, BB 119 (1939) (approx. 29’).
Other works on the dark side:
- Einojuhani Rautavaara, The House of the Sun (1989) (approx. 84’), is an opera that alludes to imaginary survivors of Russia’s last tsar. It is an allegory of decline and despair.
- Kalevi Aho, Rejoicing of the Deep Waters (Syvien vesien juhla) (1995) (approx. 11’): 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”.
- Pedro Mairal, The Woman from Uruguay: A Novel (Bloomsbury, 2021): “Our reviewer, Ratik Asokan, wasn’t enamored of the book — “an unfocused, lopsided story that packs far too much into 150 pages,” he wrote - but editors here appreciated how Mairal veers from hope to despair in a provocative, often darkly funny narration that strikes a clever balance between midlife-crisis story and noir.”
- Jabari Asim, Yonder: A Novel (Simon & Schuster, 2022): “Yonder is an old word, originating in the 1300s, meaning a place that is distant but within sight. It’s almost in reach but not quite close enough to grasp. It’s a beacon of hope — you’re not there yet, but you’ve only got a little farther to go.”
- Douglas Stuart, Young Mungo: A Novel (Grove Press, 2022): “A Booker Prize Winner Takes On First Love and — Just Maybe — Hope”.
“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”.]
Music: songs and other short pieces
- Yungchen Lhamo, “Good Times Will Come”
- Maria Pomianowska Project, “Chinese Song ‘Hope’”
- Franz Schubert (composer), "Hoffnung" (Hope), D. 295 (1815) (lyrics)
From the dark side: