Hope Is the Thing with Feathers Essay

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.

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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…. or 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 would not expect it to be. For instance, where there is sorrow, there is a certain type of optimistic expectancy that that sorrow will be overcome by a higher and stronger power of “hope. This notion resides from a universal want by all people, but like previously stated; unfortunately everyone does not notice this yearning. Sean Robisch goes upon his analysis of Dickinson’s poem in a more critical sense. He states that throughout all her works, the metaphors she uses lead us “to look not only at the poem on the page, but at what we have brought to it from our own experiences. ” When reading a piece of literature that sparks interest, readers tend to connect with the work on a more intimate level. This is accomplished by reading into either a particular phrase or the whole piece, and self-identifying with it.

This establishes a more devoted reading of the written work which all writers wish to accomplish- the connection and understanding of a piece of their works even if it was not the intended interpretation. Robisch answers the metaphorical question “What is hope? ” with the answer “It is a bird. ” He indicates that because of this first question, it sparks more questions to be answered pertaining to the metaphor of the feathers asked by the critic Katherine M. Rogers. Rogers puts forth the question “Do birds sing in bad weather? ” In congruence with Barton Levi St.

Armand and George Monteiro’s findings of “hope” being “a blessed sense of peace amid a sea of troubles”, the bad weather would be the multitude of problems, and the song would then be the yearning for an existence excused from any unwanted predicaments. The answer to Rogers’ question is in this case yes, “birds do sometimes sing in bad weather” (Robisch). The first two lines in the second stanza of the poem, “And sweetest-in the Gale-is heard- / And sore must be the storm-” focus on the song of the “Bird” traveling through the terrible “storm” trying to be heard.

The last two lines, “That could abash the little Bird / That kept so many warm-” focus on the severity of the “storm” interrupting the peacefulness the song gives to its’ host. No matter how harsh a person’s “storm” may be the “bird” restlessly attempts to show comfort and optimism for the downfall as well as aftermath, if there be any. According to the poem, the “hope” which resides inside the soul is the only comfort humans can depend on. Depending on the viewer, whether life be looked upon as an every man for himself type of orld or with a more optimistic point of view such as the glass is half full, the one dependable ease every being has already dwells inside. Once everyone else is gone and the acts are over with, the only thing left is the “hope” of a better tomorrow. The host in which has the more outgoing personality who recognizes the “bird” more frequently than the more timid personality will grasp onto the optimistic thoughts after the finality of their turmoil and cling to the song until their future looks bright enough to take on either alone or with an outside force.

The more apprehensive personality who seldom or not at all notices the song of their “bird” will cling to more of a negative aspect pertaining to their dilemma because they cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel that the song provides them. The third and final stanza, “I’ve heard it in chilliest land- / And on the strangest Sea- / Yet, never, in Extremity, / It asked a crumb-of Me” points to the recognition of the “bird” and its’ song throughout the speaker’s tribulation.

It also touches upon the notion that the “bird” within has never indicated they expected something in return. Robisch comments on the last two lines of the poem demonstrating that the song of the “bird” does turn into “the possibility of a request. ” The song aspect of the poem comes to play in his interpretation of this last segment of the piece. He states that the likelihood of a plea from the “bird” is “…a change from one kind of song (a bird’s song) to another (a voice that could ask a question)” (Robisch).

After commenting on the possibility of a request from the “bird”, Sean Robisch goes on to explain how influential “hope” truly is to the speaker. He states that the imagery of the last two lines actually imply the speaker realizes that the “bird” inevitably does not wish for repayment for its services. “To test one possible interpretation, Dickinson implies with this ending that if I put myself in the position of the ‘Me’ narrator, I become the one who needs the song of the Bird, the voice of Hope, and I come to recognize what a potent force it really is” (Robisch).

In this statement, the critic emphasizes the capitalization of the word “Me”. Like Robisch has stated, capitalizing the pronoun puts the reader in recognition of his or her own “bird” and its song that wishes to be heard. By doing this, Dickinson opened up the doors for the reader to self-identify with her poem. Her intention was clearly to get people to think about the unknown capabilities that lie within. She was speaking to both types of personalities-the outgoing and hesitant- throughout this poem, but had two separate meanings for each.

For the outgoing personality who automatically recognizes their sense of “hope”, putting them in the narrator’s perspective allows them to identify themselves as the one’s who take advantage of their comfort in tough times and to hopefully respect the song and know they are fortunate enough to obtain their inner knowledge. The second personality type Dickinson’s poem takes into consideration, the hesitant natured, the poem speaks to them entirely different. To those readers, it is a sense of empowerment.

Dickinson puts a metaphorical mirror in front of their faces and allows them to recognize the song their “bird” that lives within sings for them. More than likely, their outlook on life is more of an every man for himself kind of world, meaning when they are presented with a stressful situation to handle alone, they feel there is no help. By creating this self-identifying doorway and metaphorical mirror by putting the reader in the narrator’s position, the hesitant personality can then, with luck finally identify the song of their hopeful “bird” and make use of it.

Although everyone has their own opinion, the outlooks from the critics discussed previously work together in a way for an interpretation of Dickinson’s poem “Hope is the thing with feathers” to become evident. The writer of the work overview “Explanation of: “Hope (1)” describes the bird as the inner “courage and perseverance” that all people have inside, whether they are aware of it or not. They also bring up the universal feeling of desire. Barton Levi St. Armand and George Monteiro’s more religious-based findings contribute to the thought of the courageous song that lies within as a sense of a comforting presence.

They concluded their findings with the thought of this “bird” always being present in the darkest of times, when it is needed the most. Sean Robisch’s more critical view of Dickinson’s poem brings forth questions that the readers themselves must answer and find their own “bird” within. The poem “Hope is the thing with feathers” by Emily Dickinson is a piece of literature that asks a “crumb” of its readers to look inside themselves and recognize the potential of “hope” that lies inside each of them.

Works 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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