Chain of Associations

On the morning walk with Curious Dog last Friday, I was distracted and followed CD to the left at the top of the hill in the woods where we usually go right. So, we ended up on a trail that we don’t walk too often (mainly because it’s dog-walker central and I usually like to take the paths less travelled). And I found, screwed to a tree (hope the screws aren’t bad for the tree), a wooden sign (see the photo) saying in German:

Hoffnung ist nicht
die Überzeugung,
dass etwas gut
ausgeht, sondern
die Gewissheit,
dass etwas Sinn
macht, egal wie
es ausgeht.

Having googled it, I found that it’s a quote attributed to Václav Havel. I also googled the English translation:

Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.


That sign hadn’t been there the last time Curious Dog and I walked that trail which was either in December or January. I spent good part of the rest of our walk wondering who the quote was by, who had put it up and, most importantly, whether I agreed with the definition. I rather think I don’t. Hope isn’t a “conviction” and it definitively isn’t a “certainty” and I don’t see what “making sense” has to do with it, either. Still, it’s intriguing and fun to discover a random quote in the woods.

In my warm and cozy bed this morning I was reading my daily poems, not from my Irish poetry anthology, because that was too unwieldy to lug to Bavaria, but from a smaller paperback called Final Harvest, a selection of Emily Dickinson’s poems which was given to me years ago by my American Literature professor. I came across poem 254:


“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet, never, in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of Me

I prefer this way of defining hope to Václav Havel’s.


And then I remembered a short novel I’d read a couple of years ago, Grief Is the Thing with Feathers, by Max Porter. It’s a very short, poetic novella (although I think it was also produced as a play) about a father and his two young sons who must deal with the sudden death of their mother and wife. Desolated, they are visited by Crow, a kind of trickster figure from the poetry of Ted Hughes. I remember very much liking the novella and being inspired by it to get a copy of Ted Hughes Collected Poems, which I started reading in October 2019. I put it down for a while early 2020 because I found it heavy going and hard to understand. I do want to take it up again, it’s still on a heap of books next to my bed. It’s probably something that needs a lot of rereading.

I like it when things lead to other things, books to other books. It’s part of the magic of reading, seeing connections, going down odd paths to be delighted by things one might otherwise never have stumbled across. And isn’t it amazing when such a chain of associations is started by a random quote one finds nailed to a tree in the woods?

Keep safe, world.

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