Carver’s “Hope”

I’ll have to admit that my favorite Carver poems are those that seem to mention “Tess,” and refer to the last ten years of his life, apparently the happiest years of his life. Those poems, however, lose much of their strength if they are not seen against the whole of his work, which includes many poems focused on his failed marriage and to the alcoholism that threatened his very existence.

In light of may own divorce after seventeen years of marriage, I can certainly identify with this poem:


“my wife,” says Pinnegar, “expects to see me go to the dogs when she leaves me. It is her last hope.”

–D.H. Lawrence, “Jimmy and the Desperate Woman”

She gave me the car and two
hundred dollars. Said, So long, baby.
Take it easy, hear? So much
for twenty years of marriage.
She knows, or thinks she knows,
I’ll go through the dough
in a day or two, and eventually
wreck the car — which was
in my name and needed work anyway.
When i drove off, she and her boy —
friend were changing the lock
on the front door. They waved.
I waved back to let them know
I didn’t think any the less
of them. Then sped toward
the state line. I was hell-bent.v
She was right to think so.

I went to the dogs, and we
became good friends.
But I kept going. Went
a long way without stopping.
Left the dogs my friends, behind.
Nevertheless, when I did show
my face at that house again
months, or years, later, driving
a different car, she wept
when she saw me at the door.
Sober. Dressed in a clean shirt,
pants and boots. Her last hope
She didn’t have a thing
to hope for anymore.

I suspect that anyone who has endured a bitter divorce (aren’t all divorces bitter ?) can identify with this poem, perhaps even hoping the same for their former spouse. I know it took me many years before I could begin to hope that my ex-wife found the same happiness that I sought for myself.

The irony, of course, is that even the narrator believes that his wife is right when she believes he is “hell-bent,” as many of Carver’s poems show. The remarkable thing is that he managed to overcome his personal devils and find happiness. And, though it’s never stated, the implication seems to be that he has done better than his ex for when she last sees him her last hope, for happiness, is “blasted” and she “didn’t have a thing/ to hope for anymore.”

The best revenge in life isn’t getting even; it’s simply finding your own happiness.

5 thoughts on “Carver’s “Hope””

  1. Yes, that implication about the reversal of their circumstances is what makes the poem for me. And yet I agree that revenge is not the answer, it’s moving on and finding happiness and maybe another partner. That’s hard, especially after a 23-year-marriage.

  2. Being able to defeat one’s
    “personal devils and find happiness”
    is what I relate to here
    as that has been my major battle.
    I cannot say for sure,
    and it was not planned that way,
    but if I follow through,
    today an event occurred
    which marked the end of that battle.

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