HOPE IS A THING WITH FEATHERS

Summary: In her poem “Hope is the Thing with Feathers” Dickenson mentions hope as a positive approach towards life. She uses the metaphor of bird to portray hope. As a bird can not fly without wings so man can not live without the ray of hope in his life. Her choice of words shows her positive approach towards optimism. She says, “Perches, soul, tune without the words”. Further her optimism makes her, “Sweetest in the gale”.
Hope for Emily in this poem is“A bird with feathers”. Feathers are the source of helping and assisting the bird so for human beings life is enjoyed and nourished by the feathers of hope. Again she is of the view about hope that hope is a “Tune without words” because it is abstract although yet exists as a strong and motivated feeling for human beings. Dickenson further declares, “I have heard it in the chilliest land”. She further maintains that no matter how much pressing and difficult the circumstances are she even then felt the presence of hope in her life. She is not so much highest in describing her passion that she may cross the limits yet she maintains and balances between hope and its description and does not cross her limits. She says, “Yet never in extremity, it asked a crumb of me”. At the end of the poem, she finalized her decision that hope demands nothing in return even not a little thing it just gives to its holder.

Hope is the Thing with Feathers

About The Poem: “’Hope’ is the thing with feathers” is the sixth part of a much larger poem entitled ʻLifeʼ. In the poem, Dickinson examines the abstract concept of hope. Despite her astonishing output, fewer than a dozen of Dickinsonʼs poems were published during her lifetime. Since 1890, Dickinson has remained continuously in print. Her work was discovered by her younger sister, Lavinia, who chanced upon her collection of almost 1,800 poems. However, it wasnʼt until the 1955 publication of Dickinsonʼs Complete Poems by Thomas H. Johnson that a wider readership was afforded the opportunity to read her poems as she intended them to be read. Prior to that publication, her poetry was heavily edited and altered from the original manuscript versions.
gale: A gale is a storm, and that is when
the bird’s song is sweetest.
Sore: “Sore” here means “harsh” or “terrible.”
abash: “Abash” means shame or humiliate
perches: rests or alights.
chillest: coldest.
Extremity: an extreme condition, such as misfortune.
That kept so many warm: Here, the bird of hope keeps people warm, not even just the person who has it.

Explanation

“Hope” is the thing with feathers–
That perches in the soul–
And sings the tune without the words–
And never stops at all–

This short poem opens with an attempt to categorize hope that recalls familiar dictionary definitions. We are told that ʻHope is the thing with feathersʼ. In the next line, the metaphorical association of hope with a bird is continued. The speaker informs us that hope ʻperchesʼ (as a bird would) ʻin the soulʼ, where it sings an unending and wordless song.

And sweetest-in the Gale-is heard–
And sore must be the storm–
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm–

In the next quatrain, the speaker suggests that hope is sweetest when it is needed most. In fact, such is the strength of hope to keep so many warm and withstand even the strongest gale that it would take a storm of terrifying intensity to ʻabashʼ this ʻlittle Birdʼ.

Iʼve heard it in the chillest land–
And on the strangest Sea–
Yet, never, in Extremity,
It asked a crumb-of Me.

In the final stanza, the speaker attempts
to outline the personal nature of her relationship with hope, telling us that she has heard the bird of hope ʻin the chillest land- And on the strangest Seaʼ, but never, no matter how extreme the conditions, did hope ever ask for a single ʻcrumbʼ from her. This means even though the bird of hope has sung its song in the hardest of times and never asked for even a crumb of payment.

STYLISTIC FEATURES

This short celebration of hope shares a number of stylistic features with many of the other poems by Dickinson on the course. To begin, the poem is typical of Dickinsonʼs work in general in that it attempts to render the abstract palpable. By likening hope to a feather or a bird, the poet manages to capture some of the innate qualities of hope. Like a feather, hope has the ability to transcend the earthly realities of a situation. Much like the feathers on a bird, hope insulates us from some of the harsher realities of life. By likening hope to a birdʼs song without words, Dickinson suggests the universality of hope. If this song were confined to a particular language, this would limit the experience to a particular time and culture. Instead, she suggests that hope is common to all people and all times. However, the poem does not seek to ignore the harsher realities of life that necessitate hope. The use of a strong muscular verb such as ʻabashʼ, for instance, to describe the stormʼs effect on the bird, jerks the reader back to the reality behind the beautiful metaphor in the first two stanzas. This simple, metaphorical description of hope as a bird singing in the soul is another example of the poetʼs homiletic style (i.e. like a homily or sermon). Dickinsonʼs poetry is heavily influenced by psalms and religious hymns. In particular, the poemʼs rhythm reflects aspects of devotional hymns that Dickinson would have heard as a child. Like most of her poems, ʻ“Hope” is a thing with feathersʼ employs iambic trimeter that often expands to include additional fourth stress at the end of the line: And sings the tune without the words-While the stanzas rhyme in a loose pattern, the poet makes use of carryover rhymes throughout all three quatrains. Notice how ʻwordsʼ in the first stanza rhymes with ʻheardʼ and ʻBirdʼ in the next quatrain; similarly, ʻExtremityʼ is rhymed with ʻSeaʼ and ʻMeʼ in the third stanza. This enhances the musical effect of the poem and creates a light, airy feeling that the speaker associates with hope. This musical sense of balance and harmony is further reinforced through the use of anaphora. The repetition of ʻAndʼ and ʻThatʼ, together with the inclusion of the alliterative ʻsʼ, enhance the poemʼs overall musical quality.

Poetry Questions:

1. “Hope is the Thing with Feathers” by Emily Dickinson
What does the poet describe as the thing with feathers?
a. Soul
b. life
c. Song
d. Hope
Answer: d. hope
2. The poet uses the words “gale” and “storm” as metaphors. What might these words represent?
a.Hard or painful times
b. pleasant times
c. Times of bad weather
d. Times of success and growth
Answer: a.Hard or painful times.
3. What does the word gale mean in line 5?
a. A bird
b. A very strong wind
c. Sunshine
d. Feeling
Answer: b. A very strong wind.
4. Hope is important and helpful in the times of sorrow, pain, and difficulty.
Which lines from the poem best supports this statement?
a. Lines 5-8
b. Lines 11-12
c. Lines 1-2
d. Lines 3-4
Answer: a. Lines 5-8.
5. The poet says that hope “sings the tune without the words.” Why might the poet have written that the tune has no words?
a. To indicate that people who are always hopeful are also often forgetful.
b. To emphasize that hope does not need to put be into words to be felt.
c. To suggest that people are usually unable to understand the feeling of hope.
d. To point out that it is very difficult for people to express whether they feel hopeful or not.
Answer: b. To emphasize that hope does not need to be put into words to be felt.

6. The tone of stanza one is:
a. hopeful
b. Sorrowful
c. Sad
d. Aloof
Answer: a. hopeful
7. What is the theme of this poem?
a. People need to work hard in order to maintain hope at all times.
b. Hope can survive through even the toughest times.
c. Hope is able to keep people warm even in the coldest, stormiest lands.
d. Without hope, people would be more sensible and realistic.
Answer: b. Hope can survive through even the toughest times.

8. Read these lines from the poem:

And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.
What does the word “abash” most nearly mean, based on these lines?
a. To confuse
b.To support
c. To praise
d.To silence
Answer: d.To silence
9. Read these lines from the poem:

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.

What does “it” refer to in the last line?
a. The little bird
b. The storm
c. The chillest land
d. The strangest sea
Answer: a. The little bird


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