Hope Is the Thing with Feathers

Topics: Emily Dickinson, Personality psychology, Stanza Pages: 6 (2030 words) Published: December 6, 2012
EN102 Section 174
May 4, 2012
According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of the transitive verb “hope” is 1.) to desire with expectation of obtainment, and 2.) to expect with confidence. The first definition indicates a sense of fulfillment due to a confident yearning. The second definition of the word points to a trusting anticipation. In Emily Dickinson’s famous poem, “Hope is the thing with feathers,” she interprets these definitions and adds her own meaning.

The first two lines in the first stanza state, “Hope is the thing with feathers- / That perches in the soul-”. Dickinson is metaphorically suggesting that “hope” is a bird, which lives within all people. The next two lines “And sings the tune without words- / And never stops-at all-” indicate the bird that lives within everyone continuously sings, even when the toughest times are in sight.

According to the work overview “Explanation of: “Hope (1),” the writer describes the bird as “courageous and persevering” because of its continuation to “…share its song under even the most difficult conditions.” They also go on to state that by representing “hope” as a bird, “…Dickinson creates a lovely image of the virtue of human desire.”

Not everyone expresses courage or perseverance, but all people have the ability to. Everyone’s personality is different. The “bird” in the more outgoing personality is more dominant and recognizable, yet in the more bashful personality the “bird” is hidden by insecurities and the lack of sensing its existence. These opposing character traits are different yet similar; all humans, no matter who or what they are, share the same feeling of desire. Like the bird, the pull of desire may not always be prominent, but it is always there. Similar to the difference in traits, there are different desires in everyone. Some folks may have comparable interests, but not all wish for the same things out of life. Although those who do have the same wants, the songs of their “birds” sing an almost identical song.

Barton Levi St. Armand and George Monteiro from Brown University reviewed William Holmes and John W. Barber’s Religious Emblems (1846) and found a different meaning of Dickinson’s word “hope.” “Hope does not remove trouble; it sustains the soul in the time of trouble….This hope imparts a delightful sense of security in the day of trial, a blessed sense of peace amid a sea of troubles…” (St. Armand).

Although their findings were more along the religious aspect, it brings a different position to Emily’s poem. Instead of courage, perseverance, as well as desire, St. Armand and Monteiro’s findings focus more on the thought of hope being a metaphorical “rock” to anyone in a time of turmoil. The singing of the “bird” inevitably gives the person who is going through some type of disruption not only a sense of stability and tranquility, but also a motivation to push through their struggles and move forward.

People who lack the courageous characteristic and who do not identify with this hopeful “bird” that lives within, regularly struggle more times than necessary while facing hardships. They do not recognize the ability they possess inside themselves to aide them in overcoming their presented conflict. Unlike the apprehensive personality, the extrovert takes full advantage of their newly found feeling of safety that the song of the “bird” gives to them. They adapt better to their situation at hand and overcome their obstacles with a better result.

Monteiro and St. Armand continue on in their analysis of “Hope is the thing with feathers” to conclude that the “thing with feathers” is not a “supernatural aid or saving grace….nor a sacrificial offering”, but it is “a purely existential and precariously human force that ‘perches in the soul,’ finding a resting place among the very desert places of the interior life” (St. Armand).

Their conclusion touches upon the thought that “hope” resides within the particular places in humans where you...

Cited: Dickinson, Emily. “Hope is the thing with feathers.” Prentice Hall Literature Portfolio.
Ed. Christy Desmet. Upper Saddle River: Pearson, 2007. 464. Print.
“Explanation of: ‘Hope (1)’ by Emily Dickinson.” LitFinder Contemporary Collection.
Detroit: Gale, 2007. LitFinder. Web. 1 May 2012.
“Hope.” Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, 2012. Web. 24 Apr. 2012.
Robisch, Sean. "An overview of "Hope is the Thing with Feathers"." Poetry for Students.
LiteratureResource Center. Web. 25 Apr. 2012.
St. Armand, Barton Levi, and George Monteiro. "Dickinson 's 'HOPE ' IS THE THING
WITH FEATHERS." Explicator 47.4 (1989): 34. Academic Search Complete.
Web. 24 Apr. 2012.
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