English Literature
Hope is the thing with feathers

Hope is the thing with feathers

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The Enduring Message of Emily Dickinson's 'Hope' is the Thing with Feathers

Written in 1861 and published in 1891, Emily Dickinson's poem 'Hope' is the Thing with Feathers' is a timeless exploration of the theme of hope. As a poet known for her introspective and contemplative style, Dickinson uses an extended metaphor and literary techniques to convey the power and resilience of hope, making this poem a source of comfort and reassurance for readers.

Background and Context

Born in Amherst, Massachusetts in 1830, Emily Dickinson was a prolific writer who only gained recognition after her death in 1886. During a decade marked by personal loss, Dickinson wrote 'Hope' is the Thing with Feathers' as a source of solace and hope during trying times. While the poem was published posthumously, it remains a significant piece in her collection, illustrating her unique perspective on literature and life.

Historical and Literary Influence

Dickinson's poem was written during the Second Great Awakening, a prominent Protestant revival movement in America. Although she rejected religion as a teenager, the influence of religious themes can still be seen in her works. The American Romantic movement, a literary trend centered around the beauty and power of nature, also played a significant role in shaping Dickinson's writing. 'Hope' is the Thing with Feathers' portrays nature as a symbol for hope, further solidifying her ties to the Romantic movement alongside fellow poets like Walt Whitman and Ralph Waldo Emerson.

The Poem

"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 BirdThat 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."


In 'Hope' is the Thing with Feathers', Dickinson presents hope as a bird that resides in the soul and sings a wordless tune that never ceases. The speaker shares that the bird's song can be heard even in the midst of a storm, providing warmth and solace. The final stanza highlights the resilience of hope, as the bird asks for nothing in return, even in the most trying circumstances.

Structure and Rhyme

Following a lyrical structure with three stanzas of four lines each, Dickinson's poem conveys the personal thoughts and emotions of the speaker. The rhyme scheme changes throughout the poem, with slant and perfect rhymes, mirroring the transformative journey of hope. The use of dashes and caesuras also creates a sense of pause and contemplation, adding depth to the overall message of the poem.

In conclusion, Emily Dickinson's 'Hope' is the Thing with Feathers' showcases her poetic style and powerful exploration of themes such as hope, nature, and spirituality. By using an extended metaphor and literary techniques, Dickinson effectively conveys the enduring message of hope and its ability to withstand even the most challenging of circumstances. As such, this poem continues to offer comfort and reassurance to readers, cementing its place as a classic piece of literature.

The Symbolic Importance of Imagery in Emily Dickinson's "Hope is the Thing With Feathers"

Through the use of a bird and its song as a central motif, Dickinson beautifully depicts the essence of hope in her poem. The bird's resilient nature and ability to sing in harsh conditions symbolize the enduring strength of hope, even in the face of adversity. The recurring line "And never stops - at all -" emphasizes hope's relentless persistence.

The Impact of Dashes and Caesuras in the Poem

The strategic placement of dashes and caesuras throughout the lines creates pauses and breaks, allowing readers to pause and reflect on the significance of hope in one's life. This literary technique is a signature of Dickinson's writing style and adds depth to the overall meaning of the poem.

The Unconventional Structure of "Hope is the Thing With Feathers"

Dickinson's use of dashes and enjambment, where lines flow into each other without punctuation, results in an irregular structure that mirrors the unpredictable nature of life. This unconventional structure serves as a reminder that hope, like life, is never straightforward and can often come unexpectedly.

The Metaphorical Representation of Hope as a Bird

In the majority of the poem, Dickinson uses an extended metaphor, comparing hope to a bird. This bird's song represents the uplifting and comforting impact that hope can have on individuals during trying times. As birds are often symbols of hope, freedom, and peace, it is a fitting representation of the emotion.

Unpacking the Meaning of Emily Dickinson's "Hope is the Thing With Feathers"

At its core, this poem is an exploration of the transformative power of hope. By personifying hope as a bird that resides within the human soul, Dickinson highlights its ability to sustain and uplift individuals through life's challenges. The words "And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -" further emphasize the importance of hope in difficult times.

Key Facts to Know About "Hope is the Thing With Feathers"

  • The poem was written by Emily Dickinson in 1861 and was published posthumously in 1891.
  • It is composed of three quatrains following a common meter.
  • Some scholars consider it a "definition poem," as the speaker attempts to define the concept of hope.
  • The rhyme scheme is ABAB ABAB ABBB.
  • Dickinson utilizes literary devices such as anaphora, metaphor, and enjambment in the poem.
  • The main theme is the enduring power of hope.

The Inspiration Behind "Hope is the Thing With Feathers"

The exact motivation behind Emily Dickinson's creation of this poem remains a mystery. However, it is believed that she wrote it during a time of personal loss and emotional turmoil, suggesting that it served as a reminder to hold onto hope during challenging times.

The Profound Message Within "Hope is the Thing With Feathers"

Through the speaker's imaginative portrayal of hope as a bird, Dickinson conveys a powerful message - that hope is a force that can sustain individuals even in the darkest moments. The bird's unwavering song represents the resilience and unwavering nature of hope, making it an essential part of the human experience.

The Power of Hope According to Emily Dickinson

Through her poem, Dickinson implies that hope is an immense and altruistic force that can bring comfort and fortitude to people without any expectation of reward. This poignant message serves as a reminder to cling onto hope, especially in the face of adversity.

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