Why did Emily Dickinson write the poem "Hope is the thing with feathers"?

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Before considering why Emily Dickinson wrote the poem “‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers,” let’s first discuss who Emily Dickinson was. Dickinson (December 10, 1830–May 15, 1886) was a recluse. Though she wrote many poems, only seven were published in her lifetime. While she attended Amherst Academy and the Mount...

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Before considering why Emily Dickinson wrote the poem “‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers,” let’s first discuss who Emily Dickinson was. Dickinson (December 10, 1830–May 15, 1886) was a recluse. Though she wrote many poems, only seven were published in her lifetime. While she attended Amherst Academy and the Mount Holyoke Female Seminary as a young woman, by her life’s end, Dickinson had removed herself from society.

While in her twenties, Dickinson fell in love with Reverend Charles Wadsworth, a married minister. Her love was unrequited, and many scholars have posited that her disappointment both traumatized her and resulted in her vast and prolific poems. “‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers” is thought to have been written in 1861. As one of her earlier poems, it could certainly have been written as a response to her unrequited feelings towards Wadsworth.

When analyzing the poem, one can see that “‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers” is an extended metaphor. (Like a metaphor, an extended metaphor compares two unlike things. The difference between the two is that extended metaphors continue over several lines of text or poetry.) In Dickinson’s poem, hope is described as a bird that “perches in the soul.” The bird’s song “never stops,” even when life is difficult. The poem suggests that it is hope’s presence that keeps each individual moving forward in the face of adversity.

After considering Dickinson's life and the poem’s message, one could argue that Dickinson wrote the poem as a way to deal with her own feelings and hopes in the face of unrequited love. The fact that Dickinson never married further supports this reading. Perhaps her hope for eventual love kept her strong in the “chillest land” and “strangest Sea” that was her life.

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