Hope Springs Eternal in the Human Breast

English: Pond at Pope's Meadow Pope's Meadow i...

Pond at Pope’s Meadow is named after Alexander Pope who lived nearby. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
Man never Is, but always To be blest:
The soul, uneasy and confin’d from home,

Rests and expatiates in a life to come.

Alexander Pope

From Pope’s “An Essay on Man” this quote has always struck a chord with me, especially the first line.  I think it is a great illustration of the sheer tenacity of the human spirit.  Very much in the same vein of “Dum spiro spero” (While I breathe, I hope), Alexander Pope very deftly illustrates how as long as we live so does hope.  But unlike Cicero’s “Dum spiro spero”, Pope’s “Hope springs eternal in the human breast” does not just encompass one single individual but instead is a concise treatise on the human condition.

The essence of hope (or expectation from the Greek elpis) itself is that wonderful blessing/curse that truly makes human beings the most intelligent and emotional creature that we are.  Its existence provides us with the very basis of living.  What does our existence amount to without the hope for a better tomorrow or expectation of things to come?

You may be slightly confused by my use of blessing/curse when describing to hope.  This notion of hope being both is rooted for me in the early myth of Pandora.  In the myth, the Greek gods create Pandora as a gift for Epimetheus (“Hindsight”), brother of Prometheus (“Foresight”).  She out of naivety opens a jar containing all the evils in the world but closes it just in time to keep hope trapped in the jar.  I’m of two minds when it comes to this:

  1. What is hope (arguably a good thing) doing in a jar (filled by the gods) with all the world’s evils (death, destruction, disease)?
  2. What if the reason hope is in this jar is because it is a curse as well as a blessing?

I think that option 2 is the more likely reason.  Hope is a wonderful thing.  Each morning we are filled with hope for the day.  But then also at the end of the day, hope can be a devastating thing.  For example, you spent all day hoping that your beloved would phone as she/he promised you but as you lay your head on your pillow, you are left with the emptiness of an unrealized hope.

But it is that hope/expectations that truly differentiates humans from the animal world around us.  For what is a life without hope?

Erin Eymard is a lover of history and literature and blogs over at The Bookworm’s Fancy.

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