I. To Elpis (Hope)
Elpis, you remain in the jar,
the potential of libations.
Before words are spoken,
on the tip of the tongue,
among our racing desires,
adventurous, grasping thoughts,
you shine like a struck nebula,
dispensing grace like flowers.
You are the brightness we
grasp, unseeing the Fates
who know the topography of
our souls, the bright meadow,
the flowers plucked, the descent.
What Tykhê bestows and throws,
you, Elpis, press us to weather.
Wine meets earth, eventually.
Our aspirations flow swift into
the crevices of each choice
as the moments trace across
our universe like fine-spun
threads coiling about eternity.
Good spirit, flower-fragrant,
you who bestow the spark
to seek concord and beauty,
inspire us to find the best
in one another, the blessings
within the muddy ground,
to turn back cloudy despair
and all-dividing dissolution.
II. What Was Said
That person [who does morally wrong things] could just as easily have been us, someone at meditation said during discussion, paraphrased. We were talking about the Lojong slogans and about the nature of evil. I thought of Iamblichus’ discussion of it, of the meadow in Plato where people choose their next lives according to the bounds of lot, of the crisis of empathy and compassion — the lack thereof — in our world today.
Everyone is good, I considered, based on what Plato says. The person leading the meditation said that Shambhala teaches this. I thought more about it and contemplated whether to say anything because I’d already brought up Plato twice. The meditation leader said something like, The good is at the core of it, and the outer baggage is just in the way, it needs to be taken off. I thought — but did not say — what I’ve learned about the process of purification through the virtues, of the necessity of starting at the beginning, and of the words I say to Apollôn every morning that draw from what Proclus said about Apollôn in the Cratylus commentary and what Hermias wrote down about the stages of purification in his lecture notes of Syrianus talking about the Phaedrus. It’s not a poem, not exactly. More like a formula of images.
Then, divination this morning: Delphic Maxim #62 (“praise hope”) was noted as something I could work on. Opsopaus’ commentary said acquiesce in your fear or apprehension. It said, be optimistic. Last week, a coworker confirmed that I had become bitter about social media and technology when I asked. This week, Hermês and Apollôn gave me this. Gee, thanks, I thought. Fifteen minutes later, That judgment is fair. You are, of course, right.
A person a few years ago in a thinkpiece I’ve lost track of said le was tired of white people saying they’d cut off problematic relatives because it’s the duty of the privileged to have difficult conversations within their families and communities. It came out at about Thanksgiving time, so the holidays — and communal meals — were a big part of the piece. When I read it, I considered that I almost never see my very conservative relatives because they’re in an entirely different branch of the family, so we only ever encounter one another at weddings and funerals. People in polytheism are my Thanksgiving table, I think sometimes. This thought has helped me keep my cool in a lot of situations. It has often been difficult.
In a reincarnation-based system, I thought last night, how do we know that it wasn’t us once? I did not say this aloud.
There was a lot of laughter last night. Uplifting, playful laughter.
There’s a Marina Diamandis song I love called “Fear and Loathing.” In the lyrics, and in the chord progression, it moves from fear to love, from anxiety to hope. The message is, I’m done living like this. You can listen below, although I recommend looking it up on a streaming player because the song is actually a lot longer; the music video version is missing the best part.
The song starts out like this:
I’ve lived a lot of different lives
Been different people many times
I live my life in bitterness
And fill my heart with emptiness
And now I see, I see it for the first time
There is no crime in being kind
Not everyone is out to screw you over
Maybe, oh just maybe they just wanna get to know ya
I could probably sing the entire thing from memory, which is a feat. Song lyrics usually go in one ear and out the other for me, sacrificed to the beauty of the musical accompaniment. I could tell you where the key shifts are in a piece or when the string part swells into bliss. Marina is one of the few artists whose words my brain prioritizes as musically interesting, but she’s also a really good lyricist.
It’s from an album she wrote about archetypes, women, and America — the boxes we are meant to be in, the lies we live that make us miserable.
The song is cathartic to me; she wrote it to be so. We have all had things happen to us to violate trust and to close us off to empathy and compassion. We can always hope for more, and strive for more, even if we need to be sensible about it. It’s so easy to become bitter and to make villains out of one another because we ourselves are in pain. The maxim γνῶθι σεαυτόν (“know thyself”) teaches us to look at this — the bad we have done as well as the good — and to break the cycles of self-ignorance that lead us to hurt others due to our own suffering.
Her most recent album, Love + Fear, is like a purificatory bath in the ocean. There’s a song on it, “To Be Human,” that made me cry when I saw the music video.
She did an interview shortly thereafter with BBC 4 in which she broke down crying while talking about all of the horrible things people do to one another. The sum of Love + Fear is hope for the future and for ourselves, in my opinion. It’s a celebration and a lament that looks at the brightness and lightlessness that (can) drive us.
One of the poems I published in my early/mid-20s was called Pandora: An Afterthought. It looked at Pandora from her perspective. I wrote it the way I did because, as a young woman, I had been used to being treated like an object for years at that point. In the poem, Pandora just watches this guy do all of these things “for her” when he doesn’t even ask her if she wants them or if she wants him. She is present, but not engaged with — a gift, not an agent. The dowry jar that she brings into their marriage is an ordinary object. (It’s also a yonic symbol, and I was thinking a lot about the objectification of bodies and fertility while writing the poem.) It’s not a particularly religious poem, although it was informed by a religious perspective. Here is the second to last stanza:
The painted dowry jar in my arms
tantalized you, a mystery you never
mastered, gained only through me.
Our son will say it carried plagues,
grandchildren that it concealed pain.
Is Hope a good gift or a bad gift? I mean, everything else in the jar was bad …
This is a standard question that comes up when the story of Pandora is told. I’m inclined to say that Elpis shows the route through all the suffering in the world. Hope is not a naïve spirit or a problematic one. She gives the knowledge that things could turn out badly, but that they might end just a little bit better. She is closely related to the striving for arete and the development of virtue(s).
In a human context, I think that we need to have hope for one another. There is so much trauma, pain, and sorrow that people are working through; hope has no guarantees. It doesn’t tell us what to do after we open our mouths and realize we have just said something awkward and embarrassing, or how to talk to people whose values systems we find mind-bogglingly wrong, or the best way to bring concord and justice into our communities. (We get stronger the more we try, though.) The libation is poured; there are a lot of factors that contribute to whether or not a God answers.