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Dickinson’s “Hope” is the Thing with Feathers” Poem Essay

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Updated: Aug 21st, 2020

The name of Emily Dickinson and her works are known to almost every reader, but some stereotypes concerning her anchoretic lifestyle and unusual poetry still linger. Scholars used to emphasize mystery, isolation, frustration, and negation, and only the past two decades are marked by the paradigm shift – it is demonstrated that she also used humor, irony, satire, and puns in her works (Smith and Loeffelholz 3). Moreover, Dickinson does not shy away from the topics of God, mercy, life hardships, and humility. She puts her reflections and perceptions in the abstract forms and shows her attitude towards these issues.

The poem “254, or “Hope” is the Thing with Feathers” is a magnificent example of the author’s homiletic style (Dickinson par. 1). The ideas of the fervent hope and the humble acceptance of hardships are vividly depicted, and a specific “role model” is given.

On the surface, the plot of the poem is very simple: the narrator tells the story of a small bird which she calls the “thing with feathers” (1) and compares with hope. At the beginning of the poem, the first two lines introduce the bird, and the narrator describes it as the creature that continues singing “without the words” (3). For this reason, the narrator admires the bird. Further, the events unfold: the bird is pictured in different moments of its life, such as the most brilliant times when the wind carries the beautiful song and the harsh situations when the storm is likely to “abash the little Bird” (7). It is mentioned that the bird “kept so many warm” (8).

In other words, it helped many people, but its fate is quite cruel. At the end of the poem, the narrator remembers the circumstances when she met the bird: whether it was “in the most chill land” (9) or “on the strangest Sea” (10), it was the same bird which did not ask anything.

Although it is possible to interpret the poem as the story of a person who admired a small bird, its courage, and modesty, the meaning of this text is deeper. The hidden sense may be traced throughout every line of the poem. The characters, the symbols, and the set form the undivided whole using which the author manages to demonstrate the significance of hope and humbleness.

At first glance, it seems that there are two characters in this poem: the bird and the narrator. The bird is represented as a modest yet persistent creature because it continues to sing and be patient despite the external difficulties. Its song is similar to sacred texts which preach and educate (Sawyer 3). In other words, the bird’s song teaches people and translates hope as the core value. It may be stated that it is a round character because one can see it in different types of environments.

However, taken alone, the bird seems to be a static character: nothing changes in it. On the other hand, the narrator is also the character. In comparison with the bird, this person is blurred and quite reserved. Appearing only in the third stanza, this character does not give many opportunities to study it; as a result, the image seems to be nebulous. However, the flat and static character cannot be considered complete, as well as the bird. It may be assumed that both the bird and the narrator are the same character: in this regard, the idea of a role model will be helpful. Since the image of the narrator is blurred, it may be understood as a person who used to be desperate and had no God in their heart.

Later on, this person acquired hope, recognized God as the inspiration, and figuratively saying, turned into the bird which relies on hope and patiently accepts whatever life brings to it. As the narrator perceives, the bird sings the “sweetest – in the Gale” (5) song, and it proves that it is the ideal role model for the person. Thus, what seemed to be the mere admiration for the brave and enduring bird turned out to be the desire to obtain these traits of character in the future.

As Harish explains, poetry is often considered to be a form of symbolism that can reveal and communicate profound insights and sublime ideas in a few words (124). As a result, one can say that the dreams associated with hope and acceptance manifest themselves in the form of two main symbols: the song and the storm. Visible in all three stanzas, the song may be interpreted as the ultimate strength of hope: despite all ordeals, it still can be heard. The opposite symbol is the storm.

It is not only the natural phenomenon that poses a threat to the little bird – it is the symbol of obstacles and challenges which sometimes confuse and discourage a person. However, one can see that hope is more powerful since it is present throughout the whole text including the final stanza when neither the lack of help nor difficulties can ruin it.

As for the setting, the author uses quite abstract details, such as “the most chill land” (9) or “the strangest Sea” (10) to demonstrate that hope is universal. Even the darkest and gloomiest environment cannot prevent a person from hoping. Therefore, the setting serves as a means of emphasis.

The poem is notable for the usage of the figurative language and prosody elements that help create the effects mentioned above. Speaking of the meter in the accentual-syllabic verse, the iambic trimester is used, and it reminds readers about the sacred texts some of which are organized in a similar way (Obermeier et al. 4). Then, the scheme of the poem is peculiar: the first and the last stanzas are characterized by the ABCB structure that makes them more static while the second stanza is more dynamic owing to the ABAB scheme.

One can compare it to the traditional plot model that includes the exposition, the development of events, the climax, and denouement, with the latter two components about the last stanza of the poem. Finally, the whole poem is a large ontological metaphor, i.e. an abstraction (hope) is represented through something concrete (the bird and its song) (Yu 1740). Thus, this means to make a profound effect on readers’ perception.

In conclusion, Emily Dickinson vividly conveys the idea and emotions associated with hope and the struggle. The poem Hope” is the Thing with Feathers” illustrates the author’s convictions and demonstrates the similarity between the individual views and the religious worldview. However, Dickinson goes beyond the scope of religious thoughts and presents hope as the universal human value.

Works Cited

Dickinson, Emily. . n.d. Web.

Harish, Janani. “Mind, Thinking and Creativity.” Cadmus 2.6 (2016): 118-127. Print.

Obermeier, Christian, Winfried Menninghaus, Martin von Koppenfels, Tim Raettig, Maren Schmidt-Kassow, Sascha Otterbein, and Sonja A. Kotz. “Aesthetic and Emotional Effects of Meter and Rhyme in Poetry.” Frontiers in Psychology 4.1 (2013): 1-10. Print.

Sawyer, John. Sacred Languages and Sacred Texts. New York: Routledge, 2012. Print.

Smith, Martha Nell, and Mary Loeffelholz. A Companion to Emily Dickinson. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, 2013. Print.

Yu, Xiu. “What are the Metaphors We Live by?.” Theory and Practice in Language Studies 3.8 (2013): 1467-1472. Print.

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