Close Reading of Hope is a thing with feathers

Categories: HopeReading

The language present in Emily Dickinson’s poetry is at times unclear, sometimes ungrammatical and can be found to be disjunctive. Dickinson wrote in distinct brevity, irregular grammar, peculiar punctuation and hand picked diction. Her poems were written in a circular manner, where she took the reader to one place and them swept them back to the beginning always relating one metaphor to the next. Dickinson was an intimate person throughout her life, and her poems reflect that lifestyle. Like her poems, she was never quite figured out.

Dickinson wrote not for the audience to understand but for her own self expression by writing down the words as they came to her, with little regard to the conventional syntax or diction. In this poem Dickinson coveys a metaphorical description of hope through simple language to explain a complex idea present in everyone’s life.

Dickinson’s poem “Hope” was written in both simple syntax and diction, but backed up with a strong meaning.

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Though the word order and punctuation are somewhat strange, the actual words are easy to understand on their own. However, what makes them interesting is how they relate to one another and how they play an important factor to the overall theme of hope. Throughout the poem the words chosen are those we use everyday and made up of one or two syllables. The plain diction that is used throughout most of the poem shows the naturalness of hope.

Yet Dickinson breaks this flow with the word ‘extremity’ to show the burdens that hope can help one overcome.

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While hope is a difficult idea to grasp, Dickinson uses a simple writing style to explain hope in a philosophical view through the exploration of hope through all types of landscapes, such as the chillest land and strangest sea.

“Hope” takes the reader on a metaphorical journey through personifying hope into a bird. In the first line “Hope is the thing with feathers,” Dickinson’s choice of words helps describe how hope is anything with feathers, not necessarily something as concrete as a bird. By choosing to describe hope as “the thing” rather than a bird, she leaves room for interpretation while still painting a picture of the bird and its feathers. Hope is inanimate but by describing it as a thing with feathers she brings hope to life and creates an image of what hope may look like. By choosing hope to be a thing with feathers she sums up what hope really stands for, the ability to fly away, explore new places and start new adventures.

Dickinson talks about how hope perches in the soul, which is an effective metaphor because it creates a sense of unpredictability. The word perch means to “alight upon” it, giving it a sense of unpredictability and unstableness. Much like when a bird rests upon a tree branch and at any given moment it can fly away to a new place. She could have chosen rested in the soul, but by using the word perched she wanted to leave an impression of fleetingness and unpredictability.

Hope is described as a thing, different to everyone, yet it’s a spirit that lives within everyone’s soul. Dickinson chooses her words carefully and meticulously to create the image of what hope would look like and act like if it were a living thing. She describes hope as “the thing”, not something or anything. It implies that hope is one of its kind, hard to duplicate, unique, yet attainable by everyone. The chosen words leave enough ambiguity for the reader to go back and forth between hope being something as concrete as a bird and the feeling that lifts the spirits of a broken soul. Hope is not a bird, but it is birdlike, free, full of life and ready to fly away at a moments notice. Hope is birdlike in a sense that it sings all day without expecting anything in return. Hope is simply there waiting for someone to cease it.

“And sings the tune--without the words,” in this line Dickinson once again takes the reader from the imagery of a bird to the feeling that hope brings to the world. She writes that hope sings the tune, making the reader see and hear the bird sing a song. Then she brings the reader back to an unclear version of that image when she writes, without the words. It is as if she wanted the reader to imagine a bird with all its freedom and happiness in its song, and then takes it all back and brings the reader to their own idea of hope. Dickinson also chose to make it clear that hope sings without the words because hope isn’t meant to speak, but to inspire and light the way for new beginnings.

Without words, the tune is less definitive and not restrained to our own vocabulary. Dickinson, much like most humans, had trouble communicating their emotions orally. Because of his I believe that Dickinson chose to clearly express that hope sings without words. Humans are restricted by the connotations and definitions that words carry. However, birds aren’t restricted by words, they keep chirping their tune without a care. Dickinson conveys the sense of freedom that hopes delivers without any strings attached. Hope will remain in one’s life singing the tune, and it is up to each individual to make of hope what they wish. Hope has no words and because of this we do not know its’ intention, yet we know that it is always there for us because we hear its’ tune.

The following line “And never stops at all,” refers back to the endless tune that a bird chirps throughout the day. This line also creates a contrast with the preceding line that uses the word perch. While perch creates and feeling of unpredictability, the last line of this stanza contradicts itself when it states that hope never stops at all. These two contradictory terms were carefully chosen to once again paint the image of how hope may be personified as a bird. While a bird may chirp throughout the day without hesitation or the confusion that words might bring, a bird eventually stops or their song gets drowned out by the noise. While Dickinson wants to create a sense of eternal hope, she also wants to show that while hope will also be there, people tend to lose touch with it, much like a bird could at any point in time lose its perch. Though there is no sense of loss explained in the poem, the word perch creates this feeling as it stands for something that is not eternal.

Throughout the entire poem Dickinson makes a point to state that hope is all around us and always perched on our souls. During the rough times and the good times, hope will always be there waiting to pave the way. Dickinson ends her poem with a extremely powerful line, “Yet, never, in extremity,

It asked a crumb of me.” Hope is not just a a thing anymore, it is a selfless thing that continues to stand by your side and provide you with belief that things will work out. Yet it never asks for anything in return. Hope is unselfish, it will follow you through your darkest hours without an expectation of anything in return. It really helps illustrate what a crucial role hope played in Dickinson’s life.

Dickinson’s word choice is not the only carefully chosen aspect of the poem, the simple rhyme chosen helps the poem and message flow easily to the reader. By rhyming only the second and fourth lines of each stanza, Dickinson creates a tempo for the reader. Much like beautiful lyrics, her poems come to

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Updated: Jul 06, 2022
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Close Reading of Hope is a thing with feathers. (2016, May 07). Retrieved from

Close Reading of Hope is a thing with feathers essay
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