“Hope” is the thing with feathers
by Emily Dickinson
“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
Dickinson defines hope by comparing it to a bird (a metaphor) . Stanza one
Hope is a "thing" because it is a feeling; the thing/feeling is like a bird. Dickinson uses the standard dictionary format for a definition; first she places the word in a general category ("thing"), and then she differentiates it from everything else in that category. For instance, the definition of a cat would run something like this: a cat is a mammal (the first part of the definition places it in a category); the rest of the definition would be "which is nocturnal, fur-bearing, hunts at night, has pointed ears, etc. (the second part of the definition differentiates the cat from other all mammals). How would hope "perch," and why does it perch in the soul? As you read this poem, keep in mind that the subject is hope and that the bird metaphor is only defining hope. Whatever is being said of the bird applies to hope, and the application to hope is Dickinson's point in this poem. The bird "sings." Is this a good or a bad thing? The tune is "without words." Is hope a matter of words, or is it a feeling about the future, a feeling which consists both of desire and expectation? Psychologically, is it true that hope never fails us, that hope is always possible? Stanza two
Why is hope "sweetest" during a storm? When do we most need hope, when things are going well or when they are going badly? Sore is being used in the sense of very great or severe; abash means to make ashamed, embarrassed, or self-conscious. Essentially only the most extreme or impossible-to-escape storm would affect the bird/hope. If the bird is "abashed" what would happen to the individual's hope? In a storm, would being "kept warm" be a plus or a minus, an advantage or a disadvantage? Stanza three
What kind of place would "chillest" land be? Would you want to vacation there, for instance? Yet in this coldest land, hope kept the individual warm. Is keeping the speaker warm a desirable or an undesirable act in these circumstances? Is "the strangest sea" a desirable or undesirable place to be? Would you need hope there? The bird, faithful and unabashed, follows and sings to the speaker ("I've heard it") under the worst, the most threatening of circumstances. The last two lines are introduced by "Yet." What kind of connection does "yet" establish with the preceding ideas/stanzas? Does it lead you to expect similarity, contrast, an example, an irrelevancy, a joke? Even in the most critical circumstances the bird never asked for even a "crumb" in return for its support. What are the associations with "crumb"? would you be satisfied if your employer offered you "a crumb" in payment for your work? Also, is "a crumb" appropriate for a bird?
Emily Dickinson’s “Hope is the Thing With Feathers,” is the VI part of a much larger poem called “Life.” The poem examines the abstract idea of hope in the free spirit of a bird. Dickinson uses imagery, metaphor, to help describe why “Hope is the Thing With Feathers.” In the first stanza, “Hope is the Thing With Feathers,” Dickinson uses the metaphorical image of a bird to describe the abstract idea of hope. Hope, of course, is not an animate thing, it is inanimate, but by giving hope feathers, she begins to create an image hope in our minds. The imagery of feathers conjures up hope in itself. Feathers represent hope because feathers enable you to fly and offer the image of flying away to a new hope, a new beginning. In contrast, broken feathers or a broken wing grounds a person, and conjures up the image of needy person...
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