What is the tone in "Hope is the Thing with Feathers" by Emily Dickinson?

Asked on by irene-zou

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mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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With tone meaning the speaker's attitude toward the subject, the emotional coloring or meaning of a poem, the reader must consider the homiletic style that Dickinson uses in her poem "Hope is the Thing with Feathers."  For, like the Psalms and religious hymns, there is a reverential and uplifting tone to this verse:

Hope is the thing with feathers

That perches in the soul

And sings the tune without the words

And never stops at all.

Thwn, too, there is something of the divine in this hope with feathers that rests within the soul--a reassuring thought, indeed, and reverential as it can withstand the storm, a storm that "must be sore" if it can "abash the little bird."  Hope, "the thing with feathers,"-stands above the storm that attempts to damage.  This hope abounds "in the chillest land" and "on the strangest sea" without demanding anything.  It gives strength; it lifts the spirits with wings.  The reader is reassured that hope gives without asking, for

...never in extremity

It asked a crumb of me. 

kmj23's profile pic

kmj23 | (Level 1) Educator

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In the first stanza of this poem, the tone is light-hearted. This is created through Dickinson's image of a bird, perched and singing a tune. By placing this bird inside the soul, Dickinson also creates a peaceful and almost-idyllic tone.

In second stanza, however, Dickinson talks about a "gale" and a "storm," which has a dramatic impact on the tone by turning it violent. This is further reinforced when Dickinson talks about how the bird is abashed as it faces this storm.

In the final stanza, the gentle and light-hearted tone returns to the poem as Dickinson expresses her gratitude towards the bird. No matter what has happened, she says, the bird has never asked for anything from her, not even a "crumb." This expression of her gratitude adds sentimentality and sincerity to the poem's tone, leaving the reader with a sense that hope has indeed been restored.

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