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) .
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
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,"
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
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
Why is hope "sweetest" during a storm? When do we most need
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?
What kind of place would "chillest" land be? Would you
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
"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?
|Dickinson, Online overview
"For each ecstatic instant," p. 2
"I taste a liquor never brewed,"
"Safe in their alabaster chambers,"
"I heard a fly buzz when I died," p.
"It was not death, for I stood up,"
| "A bird came down the walk,"
"I like to see it lap the miles,"
"Pain has an element of blank," p.
"A narrow fellow in the grass," p.
"I'm nobody! Who are you?" p. 9
| "After great pain a formal
feeling comes" (handout)
"The soul selects her own society"
"The heart asks pleasure first,"
"I'll tell you how the sun rose,"
"Presentiment is that long shadow on
the lawn," p. 36
| "Success is counted sweetest"
"I cannot live with you," p. 29
"He fumbles at your spirit," p.
"I felt a cleaving in my mind,"
"My life closed twice before its
close," p. 49
| "Wild nights! Wild nights!"
"She sweeps with many-colored brooms,"
"Hope is the thing with feathers,"
"I felt a funeral in my brain,"
"I had been hungry all the years,"
|"I started Early--took my Dog--"
"My life had stood a loaded gun"
"Because I could not stop for Death,"
"If you were coming in the fall,"
Sample Midtern and Student
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