Hope is the Thing with Feathers by Emily Dickinson

Emily Elizabeth Dickinson is an outstanding American poet of the nineteenth century who managed to create her own style of writing which never obeyed traditional poetic rules of the time. Her fate being rather complicated and adventurous filled her poetry with philosophical themes, the majority of which concerned eternal issues life, death, immortality and love. One will hardly comprehend them looking them through in a perfunctory manner; one should dig deep to the very bottom of the heart to retrieve the message of Emily Dickinson’s poetry.

The poem under consideration is entitled “Hope is the Thing with Feathers”¯, typically for Dickinson’s poems it also has slant rhyme and short lines. It is the fourth part of a larger poem “Life”¯. The form is unconventional and an iambic trimester is modified and the rhythmic flow is broken with long dashes pointing out the pauses for the readers to catch the essence (Neely). The author changes punctuation rules and applies to capitalization of several important notions mentioned such as the Gale and Extremity. The insufficiency of poem’s evaluation only according to its form is quite apparent.

The substance of the poem under consideration is extraordinary as it deals with hope, a personified object which acts like a living-being and is capable of feeling and reacting to different life calamities. What strikes us from the very first reading of the poem is its simplicity, the words are common and widely used, but the philosophical way of viewing the world may be noticed only after careful thoughtful reading. Emily Dickinson introduces hope in the first two lines of the first stanza, she develops this metaphorical description by telling readers what hope does, what hardships she undergoes. By the way, let us suppose her to be an animate subject “perching”¯ and living in the soul (Neely).

Not in vain is hope compared with a bird, applying to this metaphor Emily Dickinson is juxtaposing with several of associations we have, thinking of hope in general, something hopeful or hopeless. She calls hope “a thing with feathers”¯, and we feel that hope subconsciously creates an illusion of flight, soaring. The notion “feathers”¯ is closely interrelated with “wings”¯, enabling us to fly and hope and at times even go woolgathering. On the contrary, broken wings mean disillusionment, despair and having no more power to hope for something. That is why they say that until there is hope there is life and if not for hope the heart would break.

We presuppose that it is the soul which is home to hope. It rests in our soul as well as a bird rests in its nest. It is not in a habit of a bird to leave her nest whatever happens. The confirmation of similar “behavior”¯ description of hope many be traced in all the three stanzas. But actually Emily Dickinson chooses a technique that she gives no definite description of how the soul and the hope look like, as they are abstract notions. The author acts like a masterful gifted artist, she smoothly touches the ear of the readers like a painter touches the canvas with stokes of the brush. It seems she gives readers only some hints, but the mystery is undercover and each should find out what this or that may mean for him or her personally.

The soul has always been an enigma and here it represented in the form of a bird. Birds for the poet were something special, a kind of heaven’s manifestation or heaven’s delegates. Once she wrote about them: “I hope you love birds too. It is economical. It saves going to heaven”¯. As by the time Emily Dickinson was thirty, she had already been living in complete physical isolation from the outside world, it is not unnatural that her poem reflected loneliness and hope for the possibility of happiness. In 1850s she was designated as a person with “no hope”¯ of salvation, so she felt profound isolation all the time and frequently referred to similar themes in her numerous works. Later called a prolific poet, Emily Dickinson was hardly happy in life, but no matter how severe the conditions were, she managed to withstand them and depicted it in “Hope is the Thing with Feathers”¯.

Emily Dickinson points out that the bird “never stops at all”¯. Her continuous song has no words but she never stops singing (Neely). In the part “that could abash the little Bird”¯ we notice the author’s mature style, capability of affecting the readers with unexpectedly strong words. In the second stanza Dickinson draws readers’ attention to the bird’s unselfishness, stressing that the bird gives disinterested aid to everyone, it provides warmth and comfort and expects nothing, not “a crumb”¯, in return. Emily Dickinson states that it is heard even in the chilliest land and strangest sea. Certainly, she uses these words in their indirect meaning, speaking of saddest lands, lands of loneliness and lack of support. “Chilliest land”¯ may mean indifference of people around, who are mostly preoccupied with their own business.

Emily Dickinson applied to splendid imagery as she possessed peculiar creative thinking and noticed things other people were incapable of considering. Hence, an overriding feature of her poetry lies in penetrating straight into the readers’ souls.

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