Like the tone of speech, the tone of a poem often refers to the mood it evokes in the listener or reader. Of course, while such an experience is by its very nature subjective, a poem’s vocabulary, imagery, rhyme scheme, and even its pauses ensure most readers have particular and specific emotional reactions to the poem. “Hope is The Thing with Feathers” is built around the central, extended metaphor of hope as a bird that resides in our souls. Apart from bird imagery, the poem is spare and uncluttered. This ensures that the bird is at the center of our experience and imagination when reading the poem. We sense the bird trilling sweetly in the first stanza, fluttering against "the Gale" in the second, and singing its pure song across vast stretches of an unfamiliar landscape in the third.
Note the use of words like "sore" and "abash" in the second stanza, and the mention of “chilliest land” and the “strangest Sea” in the third. All these words and phrases evoke anguish, cold, and fear. Thus, the imagery and vocabulary of the poem together do create a mood of hope, but one tinged with a slight hint of melancholy. Of course, this mood mirrors our search and discovery of hope in real life. Dickinson does not offer hope as an empty platitude; it is a feeling that is hard tested and hard won. Like a bird or a “thing with feathers,” hope is resilient but also unbelievably fragile. Light and uplifting, it rules the air, yet is often threatened by life's storms. It is warm and fuzzy, like a bird gently held in one’s palm, but often cocooned by weird and cold realities. Further, just like a bird doesn’t ask us of a crumb, hope too asks for nothing in return, arriving at the darkest hour like a benediction. Despair is the necessary context for hope, because without the dark, we would not understand the light. In my opinion, this subtext ensures the tone of Dickinson’s poem is hopeful, bittersweet, and realistic.