Finding Hope amidst the Growing Gloom

George Forster’s painting of the mysterious bird of Ulieta

Becoming acquainted with people from all over the world is one of the joys this blog has offered me. I especially prize my friendship with Farida Bag of Kampala, Uganda, who writes eloquently on a range of topics, especially race. She also has an unerring eye for the right poem for the right occasion, as you will see below. Over the past three years I have taken a number of her poetic suggestions and turned them into posts.

 I recently sent Farida a copy of How Beowulf Can Save America, and in her thank you note she made observations that (with her permission) I share with you. They have had the salutary effect of reminding me that the American election is not all that is going on in the world. Farida only sent the final two stanzas of the Thomas Hardy poem below–the two hopeful stanzas–but I have printed the poem in its entirety to show the depression with which the poet struggles.

By Farida Bag, Kampala, Uganda

Dear Robin,

I see your posts on the political actors right now, and I’m trying very hard to stay optimistic while at the same time maintaining a “que sera, sera” attitude. I’ve avoided the American news in general as I’ve been trying to focus on local issues (talk about despair!!). We’re celebrating 50 years of independence tomorrow (October 11). It is unclear to me and many others why that mark of fifty years should be so significant in a country that is so corrupt and so far behind its neighbors in many ways. It is also one in which few people have benefited from the economic advancements lauded by the International Monetary Fund et. al. Indeed, the support of the current government by those institutions is to be questioned in and of itself.

As I said, I am trying to find ways to stay optimistic. Reading is one of those ways. I am reading two very different novels: Embers by Sandor Marai and The Conjurer’s Bird by Martin Davies. I am not a nature-oriented person but I have found myself captivated by the latter and the protagonist’s search for “the Mysterious Bird of Ulieata.” I think it’s supposed to be a kind of thrush.

I don’t know anything about birds but today I looked up poems about birds. I like the one by Hardy from which I posted below and thought it fitting in these political/economic times.

Robin, thank you again for sending me a copy of How Beowulf Can Save America.”

Wishing you a blessed autumn,


The Darkling Thrush

By Thomas Hardy

I leant upon a coppice gate
When Frost was spectre-grey,
And Winter’s dregs made desolate
The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
Had sought their household fires.

The land’s sharp features seemed to be
The Century’s corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
Seemed fervourless as I.

At once a voice arose among
The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
Upon the growing gloom.

So little cause for carolings
Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
And I was unaware.

The poem had the effect on me that Farida said it would. I hope it does the same for you.

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  • Literature is as vital to our lives as food and shelter. Stories and poems help us work through the challenges we face, from everyday irritations to loneliness, heartache, and death. Literature is meant to mix it up with life. This website explores how it does so.

    Please feel free to e-mail me [rrbates (at) smcm (dot) edu]. I would be honored to hear your thoughts and questions about literature.

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