Dickinson’s “‘Hope’ Is the Thing With Feathers”

Emily Dickinson is well-known for her masterful and unconventional use of poetic forms and syntax. Dickinson’s reclusive lifestyle contributed to her works being largely unknown at the time of her life (The Biography.com). Despite that, her poetry is permeated by the ideas of hope, happiness, and self-determination. Her poignant and compressed verse contributed significantly to the development of 20th century poetry. Dickinson often used metaphor and metonymy in her works. Her recognizable writing style is prominent in one of her most famous poems, “‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers.” The ideas of hope’s perseverance, firmness, and reliability are the main focus of the poem. The figures of speech, such as metaphor, idiom, and hyperbole, used there are simple yet elegant and layered with meanings.

Dickinson starts the poem putting “hope” in quotes and referring to it as “the thing.” It indicates hope’s abstract nature, its intangibility and versatility. In this case, Dickinson metaphorically compares hope to a bird, describing it as having feathers. However, the ‘bird’ itself only appears later in the text, delaying obvious comparison to raise a little intrigue. Dickinson uses an idiom “sings the tune without the words” (“’Hope’ is the thing with feathers” ), suggesting that hope is not always rational, yet always present in humans. Dickinson puts hope inside the soul, making it an integral part of human nature. A smart stylistic decision was to put “words” at the end of the third line, referring for the rhyme to the missing yet implied “bird” from the first line. The first verse concludes with an emphasis on hope’s perseverance, no matter the circumstances.

The last line of the first verse elegantly refers to the theme of the second one. The opening line notably includes two distinct pauses. It suggests that even in the strongest gale, there is a place for calmness and respite. Hope is described as hardy and enduring yet tender and caring. No storm, representing the different hardships of life as a hyperbole, can crush it. Moreover, it only sings the sweetest in the gale when times are the hardest. In the third line, we finally meet the “bird,” traditionally a symbol of love of life, freedom, and tenderness. Even in the worst circumstances, it does not stop its song, being a constant support for the poem’s hero.

In the third verse, the personal pronoun I appears for the first time, suggesting Dickinson’s self-association with the poem’s hero. She used to compare herself to a small bird (Dickinson, 1962), so it is plausible. Hope is further described as omnipresent and everlasting. It follows the hero through all places – literally and metaphorically. During life’s lows, hope is still present to cheer up and support. Even in the most extreme situations, it is always there, persistent yet humble. Hope gives without taking, never asking for anything in return. Its nature is unknown; it is mysterious and unreachable, but it is always with us to help us endure life’s worst moments.

“’Hope’ is the thing with feathers “ presents Dickinson’s sharp and poignant perception of hope. According to the poem, hope is always there to provide support in hard times. Its abstract nature obscures its definition. Dickinson, however, uses metaphors to associate it with a familiar physical form, and idioms and hyperboles to emphasize the mystical and omnipresent nature of hope. She refers to classical and intuitively clear bird symbolism. She also confers additional traits: perseverance, calmness, and unbreakable resolve. Hope in the poem is inspirational yet slightly mysterious. Mixed rhyme schemes, unusual stylistic methods, and wide use of metaphors are distinctive of Dickinson’s poetry. The eloquent writing of Emily Dickinson makes it a brilliant work of literature even today.

Works Cited

Dickinson, Emily. “’Hope’ is the thing with feathers.” Web.

Dickinson, Emily. Letter from Emily Dickinson to Thomas Higginson, 1962, Web.

“Emily Dickinson Biography”. The Biography.com, Web.

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