Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Sweet Hope

My little granddaughter was born six weeks ago and when my son and his partner told me they had named her Hope I was at first a little puzzled. However, it very quickly became just the right name for her especially as the word hope sums up a lot of factors surrounding her birth (which I won't go into here).
Hope is so much part of our everyday vocabulary that we use it without thinking: I hope the sun shines; I hope you are well; I hope you have a good day - and so on and so forth.
Barbara Walker makes an entry in her classic book The Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets under Saint Hope:
According to Hesiod's fable of Pandora's Vase (or, as it was later erroneously called, Pandora's Box), the spirit called Hope stood for the refined cruelty of Father Zeus towards helpless mortals. Zeus sent a vase full of spites to plague humanity with vice, madness, sickness, hard labour, war, famine, and every other ill; he also enclosed Hope, whose function was to prevent men from killing themselves in despair, to escape the miseries Zeus decreed for them.
Hope was thus presented as a spirit of delusion, her ultimate purpose was to make men suffer. In Christian scriptures however, she was combined with Faith and Charity (or Love) as one of the essential virtues. Some excessively naive hagiographers even canonised these three virtues as three fictitious virgin martyrs, all daughters of the equally fictitious Saint Sophia. Saint Hope is still listed in the Roman canon of saints even though scholars have shown she never existed.

Some Poems about Hope:

Hope is the thing with feathers (by Emily Dickinson)
"Hope" is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings a 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.

When Hope but made Tranquility (fragment by Samuel Coleridge)
When Hope but made tranquility be felt -
A Flight of Hopes for ever on the wing
But made Tranquility a conscious Thing -
And wheeling round and round in sportive coil
Fann'd the calm air upon the brow of Toil -

The last verse of To Hope (by John Keats)
And as, in sparkling majesty, a star
Gilds the bright summit of some gloomy cloud.
Brightening the half veil'd face of heaven afar
So, when dark thoughts of boding spirit shroud,
Sweet Hope, celestial influence round me shed,
Waving thy silver pinions o'er my head.

The final word (for now) on Hope, I will leave to Samuel Johnson:

The natural flights of the human mind are not from pleasure to pleasure but from hope to hope.