Emily Brontë’s Poem, ‘Hope’

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.

6 thoughts

  1. This is so neat! I’ve always loved Dickinson’s poem, but I didn’t know there was a similar (and yet different) one that Bronte wrote and that might have inspired Dickinson. I like to think of hope in the more positive way, like in Dickinson’s poem, because “hope” itself seems to mean that one can’t be sure of an outcome, but just the act of hoping is enough to get through something, if that makes sense. But both of these poems definitely are beautiful!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for reading and commenting! Right! I was blown away when I saw Brontë’s poem because it was such a stark contrast to Dickinson’s. It’s interesting you frame it as not being sure of an outcome, but actively hoping is enough to get through it. With the Dickinson poem, I interpreted it at least as hope not even requiring us to be active since “never, in extremity, it asked a crumb – of me.” And I contrasted that with the idea of faith, which does seem to ask something of you, and seems more active. And certainly, inherent in the idea of faith, I think, is that we don’t know the outcome but we hold on to faith anyway. Just as I’m fascinated by the two polar opposite ideas of hope presented here, I’m intrigued by what “hope” and “faith” mean or ask of us. Those are my interpretations at least! I appreciate your insight and feedback as well!

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      1. That’s a wonderful close reading, and I agree with you that hope, in Dickinson’s poem, really does not seem to require any action on our part. I couldn’t help but think of this Bible verse from Hebrews when you mentioned what “faith” and “hope” might mean because in this verse, it sort of uses hope to describe faith: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” I don’t know if that may help in any way in uncovering what the two words may mean. It’s definitely a great question to explore! Thanks for your insight!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Oooh, that’s great addition to the discussion! Thank you for sharing! Because in that quote, faith and hope seem to be working together — as opposed to being contrasting ideas as I originally thought — where we need faith to supplement hope. Intriguing, to say the least. I could do an additional blog post musing about this, ha!

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