Saturday, October 29, 2011

"Condemn'd To Hope's Delusive Mine"

The role that hope plays in our lives is a subject to which Samuel Johnson often recurred.  For instance, his poem "On the Death of Dr. Robert Levet" begins:

Condemn'd to hope's delusive mine,
   As on we toil from day to day,
By sudden blasts, or slow decline,
   Our social comforts drop away.

On July 20, 1767, he wrote to Hester Thrale:  "I suppose it is the condition of humanity to design what never will be done, and to hope what never will be obtained."  Boswell reports the following remarks made by Johnson in April of 1775:  "He asserted, that the present was never a happy state to any human being; but that, as every part of life, of which we are conscious, was at some point of time a period yet to come, in which felicity was expected, there was some happiness produced by hope."

The following poem by James Henry (1798-1876) reminds me of Johnson's thoughts on hope.  The idea of an ever-longed for, but ever-receding, dream landscape is one we may all be familiar with (a different landscape for each of us, of course).

                           Old Man

At six years old I had before mine eyes
A picture painted, like the rainbow, bright,
But far, far off in th' unapproachable distance.
With all my childish heart I longed to reach it,
And strove and strove the livelong day in vain,
Advancing with slow step some few short yards
But not perceptibly the distance lessening.
At threescore years old, when almost within
Grasp of my outstretched arms the selfsame picture
With all its beauteous colors painted bright,
I'm backward from it further borne each day
By an invisible, compulsive force,
Gradual but yet so steady, sure, and rapid,
That at threescore and ten I'll from the picture
Be even more distant than I was at six.

James Henry, Poems Chiefly Philosophical (1856).

                   Adrian Paul Allinson (1890-1959), "The Cornish April"

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