“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.
American poet Emily Dickinson, born on December 10, 1830, grew up in Amherst, Massachusetts. Raised by her father, Dickinson attended lectures at Amherst College throughout her adolescence, which influenced the subjects of her poetry, especially focusing on nature and on the self. She attended Mount Holyoke Female Seminary for only a year, leaving to pursue her poetry. William Wordsworth and Ralph Waldo Emerson impacted her writing, as well as Charlotte Bronte and William Shakespeare. An introverted, secluded woman, few of Dickinson’s poems were published during her lifetime. Dickinson died at the age of 55 on May 15, 1886. Close friends Thomas Wentworth Higginson and Mabel Loomis Todd published the first collection of Dickinson’s poetry in 1890, but the two edited and altered the content and structure of the poems. R.W. Franklin published the first unedited edition of her poetry in 1998.
Dickinson incorporates the themes of nature and of the individual self in “ ‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers.” The poet portrays hope as a resilient songbird that “perches on the soul” (line 2) and lives within the individual. Hope withstands the harsh weather, for “sore must be the storm – / That could abash the little Bird,” (line 6-7) enduring life’s challenges and obstacles, asking for nothing in return from the individual. It accompanies the individual throughout all phases of life, from the “chillest land” (line 9) to the “strangest Sea” (line 10). Dickinson writes the poem in “common measure” (alternating iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter), using dashes to create pauses within the lines. The breaks force the reader to stop and ponder on each phrase, creating a moment of self-reflection and contemplation of the hope resting within the audience’s individual souls.