Wednesday, May 31, 2017

"Hope" is the thing with feathers --

“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.


What a lovely poem by Emily Dickinson. I especially like the bird metaphor: universal and sublime, it sings, it endures, it comforts.  

However, like so many of her poems, this one has parts that puzzle me. Perhaps you can help me solve the puzzles. Why, I wonder, is "Hope" capitalized and in quotation marks? And I do not think I understand that closing quatrain.  Doesn't "Hope" need to be nourished? 

I so much look forward to your feedback.


  1. I like this poem very much, too, Tim. I don't, of course, know for certain why Dickinson used a capital 'H' for Hope. If forced to suppose, I'd guess it was to place emphasis on it - to really show how vital hope is. Hope is one of those essential traits that keeps us going. Just my thoughts...

    1. But, Margot, why must "Hope" have "crumb[s]" in order to survive?

  2. Tim,

    Just a guess here, but I think she put "Hope" in quotation marks to tell us that she was talking about the virtue of Hope, whereas without the marking, she might be using Hope as somebody's or something's name. At least that's my guess anyway.

    The quotation marks make it less ambiguous, for me anyway.

    1. Fred, that approach/analysis seems as sensible as anything I could invent/articulate. After all, perhaps Dickinson's intended meaning and reasons are irrelevant, and a reader's response is more important. Ain't it something, though, that Dickinson, perhaps more than any other poet, leaves readers guessing rather than knowing. I wonder if that is a mark of a poet's greatness?

  3. maybe the quotation marks are to indicate personification, which she uses and expands in the balance of the poem...
    very nice poem, composed in a delicately rural frame of mind...

    1. Mudpuddle, I like that observation: "composed in a delicately rural frame of mind." I think that is also the best frame of mind for reading the poem: embracing the paradox of natural simplicity and complexity within a single sublime moment.