“I feel in the profoundest sense that nothing can ever be the same – that, as artists, we are traitors if we feel otherwise: we have to take it into account and find new expressions, new moulds for our thoughts and feelings.” – Katherine Mansfield.
It is to be expected that right now we all feel a little lost. Unsure of what the future might hold, wondering how we might make it through. However, humanity has navigated these stormy seas before and emerged, blinking in the sunlight, on the other side. Civilisations before us have been unable to see a way out. But they have made it through. And so will we.
I really want to inspire hope in you today, as much as I am trying to ignite some hope in myself. We are so close to the end, but sometimes that can be the hardest bit, The end is in sight but we cannot quite grasp it. Despite that, wars and tragedy have brought about some incredible art and I hope you’ll feel as refreshed reading these pieces as I did.
I have compiled a list of five titles that might lift your spirits, knowing that mankind has made it through. I hope this inspires you.
The Waste Land – T.S. Eliot (1922).
‘What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish?’
Imagine living through the fear of World War 1. Trying to picture how the world might look on the other side. In T.S. Eliot’s haunting poem The Waste Land one can hear the unknown in his words, not unlike the kind of thoughts we might express during this strange time.
The Influenza – Winston Churchill (1890).
‘For though it ravaged far and wide
Both village, town, and countryside,
It’s power to kill was o’er;’
The only piece of poetry Churchill ever wrote begins bleak but ends with hope. Much as this year began bleaker than bleak but can only end with hope. Just as 15-year-old Winston saw the light through the fog, so will we.
In the Shadow of Great Times – Helen Goldbaum (1939).
‘We attend the cinema, consult our watches.
We sit down and stretch our legs, stare at the skylight.
We buy a paper and read it without comprehending.’
The mundanity of life continues during chaos and fear. Can you relate to this? Going to work, reading the paper, watching a film, as though nothing of difference is going on out there. We keep calm and we carry on, just as Helen seems to allude to in this short piece written during the second world war.
Humankind: A Hopeful History – Rutger Bregman (2019).
‘War is when we shoot to kill.
But as Colonel Samuel Marshall continues to interview groups of servicemen, in the Pacific and later on the European theatre, he found that only 15 to 25 per cent of them had actually fired their weapons. At the critical moment, the vast majority balked. One frustrated officer related how he had gone up and down the lines yelling, “goddammit! Start shooting!’ Yet, ‘they fired only while I watched them or while some other officer stood over them’.
The situation on Makin that night had been do-or-die, when you would expect everyone to fight for their lives. But in his battalion of more than three hundred soldiers, Marshall could identify only thirty-six who actually pulled the trigger.
Was it a lack of experience? Nope. There didn’t seem to be any difference between new recruits and experienced pros when it came to willingness to shoot. And many of the men who didn’t fire had been crack shots in training.
Maybe they just chickened out? Hardly. Soldiers who didn’t fire stayed at their posts, which meant they ran as much of a risk. To a man, they were courageous, loyal patriots, prepared to sacrifice their lives for their comrades. And yet, when it came down to it, they shirked their duty.
They failed to shoot.’
This title is a little different to the others, but I’d like to draw your attention to it, nonetheless. During trying times, I’ve been reaching out for something to reinstate my faith in the world and humanity. Social media tends to be many individuals’ source of information about other humans, and it can become difficult to see that anyone has any goodness in them. This book will reignite your hope for humanity. It tells stories of human kindness throughout the ages, painting a different story to the one we see in the press and on our news feeds.
Full text available to buy here.
The War to End All Wars – H.G. Wells (1914).
“This is already the vastest war in history. It is a war not of nations, but of mankind. It is a war to exorcise a world-madness and end an age… For this is now a war for peace. It aims straight at disarmament. It aims at a settlement that shall stop this sort of thing for ever. Every soldier who fights against Germany now is a crusader against war. This, the greatest of all wars, is not just another war—it is the last war!”
Another slightly different text here folks. H.G. Wells wrote this book in 1914, but alongside it he also wrote an essay which appeared in the Daily News on 14th August 1914. The hope he had for the future of humanity, whilst in the midst of a terrible war, is astounding. Although we are sure to face hardships again as a society, we can always hope for a better tomorrow. We can always hope for peace and a warless, pandemic free society.
Learn more about the article here.
Access full novel here.
I hope you feel energised by these beautiful texts. I hope they fill you with renewed fight for the months ahead.
(Post written originally for 'Where Ideas Grow', by Hannah Cross)