Emily Dickinson’s Poem, ”Hope’ Is the Thing With Feathers’

poem

Admittedly, lately, I’ve been taking a deep dive into Halloween, so a lot of my posts have been Michael Myers-based. As it happened, I was flipping through my poetry app and landed on one of Emily Dickinson’s most famous poems about hope.

That’s exactly the vibe change I was looking for to close out tonight. “Hope Is the Thing With Feathers,” is a beautiful, somewhat simple, poem about hope and the durability of hope. As Dickinson said in the last sentence of the first stanza, “And never stops – at all -.” And in fact, as indicated by the second stanza, hope is its strongest when faced with the worst, epitomized by “gale” and “storm” in the second stanza.

While hope operates internally (it “perches in the soul”), it remains its own external entity since it never “in Extremity” asked a crumb – of me.” My interpretation of why “hope” at the beginning is in quotes is to express that quality of hope existing eternally from us while within us. That’s the beauty of the duality.

I also read those last two lines of the poem as saying hope flourishes in the soul during the darkest times, even when we don’t see it or recognize its siren song. That’s what makes it hope. If hope asked something of us, that would be more like faith, right?

Finally, the other notable thing about this poem is the frequent use of dashes throughout. I’m not sure what to make of that style choice. Interpretations I’ve found online see it as Dickinson’s way of denoting that poetry is meant to be read aloud, so the dashes encourage almost a breathless reading of the poem since there’s only one comma after “yet.” That comma after yet is potent, and seems to establish the significance of hope not asking a crumb of “me.”

There’s more to read into this poem, like why bird/feathers as a metaphor for hope, but I think I’ve touched on enough to whet your appetite (fun fact, I only recently learned that it’s “whet your appetite” and not “wet your appetite”; oof). I’m getting a bit sleepy and at the brain fog stage, but I wanted to share this poem tonight, as I said, to leave you all with something a bit, well, more hopeful than the expressionless face of Michael Myers.

I find this poem to be quite lovely, and I like the idea of persistent, unconditional hope. I can’t say I’ve read a lot of Dickinson’s poetry before, but after stumbling across this one, I would like to dig more into her poetry. I also read a little bit about her biography, which again, sadly I didn’t know much about. It fascinates me that Dickinson, like many artists seemingly, only really gained critical favor and fame after dying.

But within that sadness is, well, hope. I find hope within the idea that her poems lived on her because her sister, Lavinia “Vinnie” Dickinson discovered them and then tried for more than a decade to push them out to the world. Think about how much wonderful art and history could have slipped through the world’s collective fingers if not for happy happenstances like that?

What do you think of this poem? What’s your favorite Emily Dickinson poem?

3 thoughts

  1. I too think it intriguing that the two Emilys poems are in conversation. My reading of Dickinson’s “Hope” is that she’s more distant from embracing hope that many others.

    https://frankhudson.org/2019/04/11/hope-is-the-thing-with-feathers/

    One thing I’m coming to realize about Emily Dickinson, particularly when she writes about philosophic subjects, is that she’s the granddaughter, daughter, and sister of lawyers. She often seems to stipulating, adding codicils, and speaking with some specific “small print” statements as one might in law or a legal contract.

    Liked by 1 person

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