As we begin to glimpse what might be the beginning of the end of the pandemic, what does hope mean? It’s hard not to sense the presence of hope, but how do we think of it?
Hope is fragile but tough, fugitive but tenacious, even adhesive. It sticks: Hope “stayed behind/in her impregnable home beneath the lip/of the jar,” wrote the ancient Greek poet Hesiod in his poem “Works and Days.” While the evils released from the jar by Pandora fly out into the world, hope remains.
Written in the 19th century, poet Emily Dickinson’s version of hope is “the thing with feathers” that “perches in the soul” and perseveres; it sings “and never stops at all.” Dickinson invites us to imagine Hope frail as a bird, fluttering. It doesn’t fly away – but that verb “perches,” suggesting that it always might.
That Dickinson’s hope “sings the tune without the words” might suggest that hope provides a general, even generic response rather than a specific remedy tailored to the occasion. Nevertheless, even in the sorest storms, hope is available.
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