Summary and Analysis
Emily Dickinson’s “Hope is the thing with feathers” is a short ballad about hope and its role in human life. The poem’s presiding conceit is that of hope as a bird, as the title suggests. The three quatrains conform to the classic ballad meter, or common meter. This meter consists of alternating lines of iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter—that is, four-beat and three-beat lines. This meter gives the poem an energetic, light-hearted, and hopeful tone.
- The first stanza introduces the poem’s central conceit: hope as “the thing with feathers / That perches in the soul.” Dickinson then describes the bird as unceasingly singing “the tune without the words.” In her typically cryptic manner, Dickinson refrains from explaining the nature of the song. Given its context, it seems that the song is an expression of optimism and determination.
- The second stanza explores the dynamics of hope. Dickinson’s speaker observes that hope “sweetest in the gale is heard.” The stormier the conditions of life, the more powerful and necessary a force hope becomes. The stanza’s syntax suggests the resilience of hope. As lines six and seven state, “sore must be the storm / That could abash the little bird.” Little though the bird may be, it is not easily abashed or daunted.
- In the third stanza, the speaker makes a personal entrance with the pronoun “I.” The speaker relates her personal relationship to hope. Hope has sustained her in moments of “extremity” in “the chillest land” yet never “asked a crumb” in return.
Dickinson enriches the poem with various forms of internal rhyme, including alliteration, consonance, and assonance.
- The phrase “sore must be the storm” contains alliteration in the repeated s sounds and assonance in the long o
(The entire section is 438 words.)