Metaphor and Imagery in “Hope Is the Thing with Feathers” Analysis

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To trust there is a possibility for a better outcome. To dream and have courage to believe it is possible. To have faith in powers beyond own control. All these concepts relate to hope. Emily Dickinson uses her poem, “Hope is the Thing with Feathers,” to show that hope is contained in the soul of everyone and can triumph over all, as long as a person believes in it. In Dickinson’s poem, she uses metaphor to personify hope and the give it the characteristics of a bird. This imagery then shows Dickinson’s message about hope.

Emily Dickinson uses metaphor and imagery to describe the abstract idea of hope throughout her poem. She begins this in the first line, “Hope is the thing with feathers. ” In this image, the reader believes that hope is a bird. Hope is not a living thing, it is inanimate, but by giving hope feathers, she begins to create an image of hope in our minds. Feathers are used to represent hope because of the images feathers invoke. The image of flight reminds the reader of dreams and life beyond the current state. Human flight is impossible, so it brings the perspective of the impossible into comparison, since a bird is able to fly.

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Feathers enable flight and offer the image of flying away to a new world, a new beginning. In contrast, broken feathers or a broken wing would ground the bird, or in this case hope, and relates to the image of someone being beaten down by life, needy and overwhelmed. In this contrasted image, the person’s wings have been broken; therefore, they have forgotten this free-spirited hope. Although forgotten, this hope is not lost. A bird can go either ways, just as with hope. To create the flight of hope, a person must believe it is able to fly. To tear it down, a person must disbelieve in hope.

Dickinson continues to use the imagery of a bird to describe the location of hope. In the second line; “That perches in the soul,” Hope is found perched within our soul. The soul is the home for hope. This idea of home comforts the reader. Hope will always be a part of the soul. Dickinson did choose to use the word perch, defining that the bird of hope temporally sits within the soul. This bird has the option to leave its perch and fly to a new area. In the case of hope, this means it can be lost. Hope only remains as a part of the soul if a person believes it is there. A person must trust in hope for it to be a part of them.

It rests in our soul the way a bird rests on its perch. Hope is in everyone, but the person must think it is there. In the third and fourth lines, Dickinson continues the metaphor of hope and a bird by using the comparison of song. The bird “sings the tune without the words” (line 3). The tune has no direct meaning or directions yet hope is understood and felt by all. The tune is available for all ears; it is just up to the ears to listen. The song illusion of the bird continues in line 4, “And never stops at all”. The bird’s tune does not stop, but remains continuous. The bird’s continuous song represents eternal hope.

Hope will always be in the soul and will remain through good and bad. The multiple obstacles hope overcomes begins to be detailed in the second stanza, this starts with the fifth line, “And sweetest in the gale is heard” is deep into metaphor. For the bird portion, “sweetest” would mean most heard. The most heard sound then translates to strongest, or when hope is felt the strongest. The next portion “in the gale” then means in the wind. This wind acts like a tornado, so the reader has a sense of cold, hard, bitter moments. The bird’s song is most heard in the wind. Hope is felt strongest in the worst of times.

This conjures up images that the bird’s song of hope is stronger and will prevail, offering the promise that soon the wind will end. Dickinson shows how hope can triumph as long as the song remains to be heard. Dickinson uses the rest of the second stanza, “And sore must be the storm/ That could abash the little bird/ That kept so many warm” to metaphorically describe how unbelief ruins the song of hope. With Dickinson’s word choice, the stanza sets up how something as simple has hope can compare to its powerful opposites. The word “storm” is used to show the powerful opposite.

Storms are viewed as large, controlling, cold, and destructive and are felt with sense of anger. The word “sore” is used to describe the storm and strengthens the view of large and destructive. This contrast the innocence of the bird, which is “little” and had “kept so many warm”. Hope, though little, is equal to the storm. This innocence conveyed is Dickinson’s way of showing hope should be sided with, or believed in. Essentially, the storm is the ‘bad guy’ while hope is the ‘good guy. ’ The storm then abashes the little bird. The storm translates to unbelief. This unbelief tears down the bird.

In storms, birds cannot fly. When person disbelieves in hope, they are not allowing hope to fly to new opportunities. Hope always has the chance to prevail, but it is up to the person to not allow the storm to defeat it. In the first line of the last stanza “I’ve heard it in the chillest lands,/ and on the strangest sea” Dickinson explains again how the song of hope can be heard in the darkest of times. It is heard even in the coldest, saddest lands. Hope is eternal and everywhere. The words chilliest and strangest can be translated literally as in cold and strange areas.

These words describe awful positions, but in such positions, the song of hope can be heard and help create flight. The comparisons of land and sea describe the earth and its population. Hope is in every person, it is just up to the person to let it be heard. It exists in everyone’s soul, and without a price. Dickinson informs readers that the bird of hope asks for no favor or price in return for its sweet song. In the last two lines, “Yet never in extremity,/ It asked a crumb of me” hope is shown as a free gift. It exists for all of us. All we must do is not clip the wings of hope and let it fly and sing freely.

We must believe in this hope for it to prevail. Its song can be heard over the strangest seas, coldest lands, and in the worst storms. It is a song that never ends as long as we do not let it. In Emily Dickinson’s poem “Hope is the Thing with Feathers” the message is conveyed through a metaphor. This song of hope is in everyone’s soul but must be believed in for it to triumph. Dickinson’s poem clearly describes the strength of hope throughout many conditions. Hope will find a home in the soul and its song will be sung for all, if the person believes it is able to fly.

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Metaphor and Imagery in “Hope Is the Thing with Feathers” Analysis. (2018, Mar 04). Retrieved from

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