Yesterday, I stumbled on to Emily Dickinson’s poem “‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers,” and so today, I sought out to read more of her poetry. But in the course of doing so, I then stumbled on to Emily Brontë’s poem, “Hope,” which some think inspired Dickinson’s poem.
However, I’m fascinated by this because they are diametrically opposed poems. At least, I interpreted Dickinson’s idea of hope to be persistent and durable, quite literally weathering any storm, and asking no favor from you in turn.
Whereas, consider Brontë’s poem:
Hope Was but a timid friend;
She sat without the grated den,
Watching how my fate would tend,
Even as selfish-hearted men.
She was cruel in her fear;
Through the bars one dreary day,
I looked out to see her there,
And she turned her face away!
Like a false guard, false watch keeping,
Still, in strife, she whispered peace;
She would sing while I was weeping;
If I listened, she would cease.
False she was, and unrelenting;
When my last joys strewed the ground,
Even Sorrow saw, repenting,
Those sad relics scattered round;
Hope, whose whisper would have given
Balm to all my frenzied pain,
Stretched her wings, and soared to heaven,
Went, and ne’er returned again!
Hope seems more temperamental, and well, not so subtly, hope is seen as a false hope. This certainly seems like a more cynical take on hope, no? And unlike Dickinson’s idea of hope, hope abandons the author at the moment hope could most be utilized to ease the “frenzied pain.”
There’s also a symmetry here between Dickinson and Brontë’s idea of hoping being a bird, which is stated directly in Dickinson’s and alluded to with Brontë’s, where hope “stretched her wings, and soared to heaven.”
These two ideas of hope are the duality we are all struggle with. Is hope a false, and ultimately, futile notion to hang on to, or is it something that will be there for us in our darkest hour? In fact, in Dickinson’s view, it seems to be the thing we need to get through that darkest of hours, whereas Brontë sees hope as abandoning us, leaving us to somehow make it through the pain alone.
In fact, Brontë seems to suggest that in the darkest hour, sorrow is the sweet, lovely thing after all. At least it’s there, repenting, instead of absent. I find something beautiful about the image of sorrow, seeing what it has sown, repenting in the face of it. In that way, sorrow almost seems passive, guilty in being, well, sorrow. Ha, sorrow is sorrowful.
What do you make of these two versions of hope presented in Dickinson’s poem I covered yesterday and Brontë’s today? Like I said, I’m fascinated by this, and to be honest, I’m not sure where I land on the idea of “hope.”
Is hope a false prophet, who seems to come around telling us what we want to hear to ease the pain of the future, or is hope the unconditionally loving savior, who swoops in when we need them most? I’m not sure how to answer that. I’m not sure where my brain goes to. I tend to be more optimistic, I like to think, and less cynical, but hope is a scary thing, even without adding cynicism to it.
But I suppose, the basis for optimism is hope, and if I’m going to claim the mantle of being optimistic, then I have to claim its basis. The reason I find hope a scary idea is that, perhaps, in a way, sorrow is more comfortable because at least it’s consistent. Which, when I say that, that means I’m siding more with Brontë because she sees hope as fleeting, whimsical even, whereas Dickinson sees it as consistent and predictable.
Gah. I’m rambling. Apologies, but like I said, the two takes on this idea of hope (especially when one inspired the other!) are compelling and powerful to me. Wonderful, wonderful poems either way. They don’t have to agree on what hope means to be lovely.