Hope Is The Thing With Feathers Analysis

Analysis of the poem Hope Is a Thing with feathers by Emily Dickinson?

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.



Expert Answers
alystne eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A conceit is a central metaphor in a poem that defines the work's structure. In this poem, Dickinson uses her title to establish its conceit: she likens the abstract concept of hope to the physical entity of a bird (a "thing with feathers"). 

Dickinson always uses careful diction, or word choice, to convey meaning in her poetry. In this poem's first line, she writes that the bird "perches in the soul." The verb "perch" indicates that the bird is not confined or tethered there but rather makes a choice to alight upon a resting place. Perhaps Dickinson is suggesting that in order to cultivate feelings of hopefulness within oneself, a person must first create a welcome space for hope in his or her soul. 

In the second and third stanzas, Dickinson further develops the poem's conceit, focusing primarily on the sweet song the hope-bird sings, which brings joy and reassurance to those who hear it.

At the end of the poem, Dickinson changes things up by describing a quality of the hope-bird that, actually, is not very bird-like at all:

Yet never, in extremity,

It asked a crumb of me.

A real bird is certainly suceptible to hunger and will always seek food to sustain itself. But the hope-bird is endlessly giving, and requires nothing—not even the smallest "crumb"—to stay alive. The only thing it needs is a safe place to "perch." This is an unexpected twist for the reader, who is left, at the poem's final line, with a distinct and memorable image in mind: the image of a supernaturally powerful, perhaps even angelic, bird that will neither leave nor perish, so long as it is welcome as a companion.

Stephen Holliday eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Dickinson is using metaphor of a small bird to carry her point that hope stays alive within us despite all of our troubles and, like a small bird that sings in the face of the strongest wind and most powerful storm, hope never asks for anything from us--it is just there to help us when we need it.

In the first stanza, Dickinson says that hope, like the bird singing a tune, doesn't necessarily speak to us in any conventional sense but is always present in us.  Most important from Dickinson's point of view is that hope "springs eternal" (a cliche, but true nonetheless), that is, hope is a permanent fixture of our being that allows us to conquer most of what life throws at us.

The second stanza deals with the power of hope:the more the wind howlsl and the storm rages, the sweeter is the bird's song.  The poet has a hard time imagining a storm so strong that it could overcome the power of the bird's song, so Dickinson would argue that hope, which has kept so many people from despair,  can overcome any suffering.

When Dickinson says in the third stanza that the little bird, despite having to endure "the chillest land" and "strangest sea," has never asked for any payment, Dickinson is simply reminding us of hope's inherent power--it is always there, requires no maintenance, and is strong enough to see us through our troubles.

The metaphorical use of natural elements--in this case, the small bird--is a hallmark of Dickinson's poetic technique.  Often, when Dickinson deals with relatively abstract concepts like hope, love, and death, she uses a concrete image from nature to make more real something that is difficult to "see."

kmj23 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In terms of the literary devices used in this poem, Dickinson opens with a metaphor comparing the concept of hope to a bird. She says hope has "feathers" and that it "perches" in the soul.

Additionally, Dickinson uses imagery in the poem. In the second stanza, for instance, she creates an image of a storm. She talks about a strong wind ("gale") and depicts this storm as being violent ("sore"). To emphasize the storm's severity, she creates an image of the bird being "abashed," or made uncomfortable.

In terms of theme, this poem highlights two key ideas. First, that hope is an unbreakable force. It cannot be destroyed, no matter what may come. This leads directly to the second theme. Namely, that a person must never give up. It is crucial to persevere in life, to always keep faith. Because hope is guaranteed to remain a constant companion.