What is a theme of "Hope"?

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andrewnightingale's profile pic

andrewnightingale | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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The theme of the poem is hope itself. In this beautiful poem, Lisel Mueller uses hope as an extended metaphor and personifies it to indicate how special and inspirational it is. In each line she identifies where hope could be found - it is present in the most mundane and in the most fundamental of places, events or circumstances. We are surrounded by it; it is existential, pragmatic and spiritual. We can find hope within ourselves and we can be inspired by factors outside ourselves as well.

Mueller emphasizes that hope is ever-present.

The most fundamental point she makes about hope is found in lines 16 to 20:

It is the singular gift

we cannot destroy in ourselves,

the argument that refutes death,

the genius that invents the future,

all we know of God.

We may attempt to, but we can never destroy hope, not even within ourselves. Hope challenges death and can overcome it. It is what inspires us to live for the future and it is godly and therefore deeply spiritual. 

It is through this poem that Lisel Mueller attempts to give hope a voice. All we need to do is listen, and we will find it. Hope is what makes our lives meaningful and it is hope that inspires us to live beyond our circumstances and look forward to a better tomorrow. If we struggle to find hope anywhere, this poem is where we can find it.

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andrewnightingale | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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"Hope" refers to the feeling that what one wants can be obtained or that a beneficial result will be achieved at some specific point in time / that everything will go well. Therefore if "Hope" is the theme of a literary work (or any other genre) it means that the central idea / one of the central ideas of such a work is the concept of hope.

Many literary works have as a central idea or theme this concept. In Lord of the Flies, for example, Ralph constantly hopes for rescue. It is this hope that drives him to build a fire so that they can be seen. In The Great Gatsby, Jay Gatsby's dream is built on the hope that he and Daisy will one day be together. It is this hope which inspires him to accumulate wealth so that he may impress Daisy and woo her again.

Hope is inspirational - it drives people to do things that they would otherwise have thought impractical or even impossible. It is hope which allows so many people to never give up, no matter what their circumstances, for there could always be something better awaiting them. 

e-martin's profile pic

e-martin | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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The poem's central theme is the idea that hope is the animating force of life - or that hope is aligned quite directly with the actions taken in the natural world that perpetuate life. 

In a series of examples, Mueller's poem strongly implies that in the mechanisms of survival/continued life for many organisms hope can be identified as an instigating part of the process. 

It is hope that "drops from mushroom gills" in the mechanism that spreads the spores of fungus. Numerous other examples like this one are given in the poem, from the flight of seeds to the growth of potato sprouts. Hope is what, according to the poem, inspires the action of continued life and "refutes death."

Thus it is hope that "invents the future" by believing that a future can exist, that life can continue and that the effort to breathe, to sprout, to awaken to a new day will be met with some success. 

The poem, in a word, identifies hope with the basic urge and will to live - to believe in life.

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epollock's profile pic

epollock | (Level 3) Valedictorian

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Hope is therefore indestructible, and it therefore is a “singular gift” of life. The nature of hope as a “serum” is a little more problematic, but one may assume that if hope is a serum, it is an antitoxin against hatred and suspicion. Therefore it enables people to have faith in each other, thus preventing betrayal.(4) The concluding line may represent a degree of modesty on the part of the poet. When we speak, we speak about what we know, and what we plan to do. Hope is thus a corollary of speech and of poetry. Implicit in all poetry is hence the expression of hope, if only we can detect where hope appears. In this sense, hope is “trying to speak.”

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