‘Hope Is The Thing With Feathers’ by Emily Dickinson – Analysis

The Poet:

  • An American poet, 1830-1886 (19th century)
  • Lived much of her life in isolation

Title:

  • Already a hint at the extended metaphor of ‘hope’ being a bird
  • Introduce the reader to the topic of discussion, which is about ‘hope’ and its abstract meaning, and how it impacts us as individuals
  • Interesting to note that Dickinson doesn’t simply say ‘Hope is a bird’, but instead points towards specifically mentioning the quality of birds having ‘feathers’. This could be pointing or alluding to several qualities that feathers and hope should be sharing, as such. For instance, feathers are extremely light objects, and this could mean that hope in itself is also not that heavy for an individual to carry. Indeed, it is as if it is something so light that it could never possibly physically or emotionally harm you. You will always benefit from it. Additionally, learners could talk about how feathers may be striped, or coloured, shaded or brown. This variation shows how hope can become a different element in the lives of different people, for you and I. Therefore, the imagery of ‘feathers’ is indeed both tactile and visual. You could also mention how feathers help a bird to fly, speaking about the mechanics of it, and therefore how hope also propels us into bigger and better areas of life. It will never not benefit you.

Theme(s):

  • Hope (aspiration, wishing, desire)
  • Goodwill
  • The abstract
  • Wilderness, the sea, landscape imagery

Structure

  • 3 quatrains
  • abcd abab, abcb rhyme scheme in the three stanzas
  • The second stanza has alternate rhymes, therefore showing the togetherness of the feathers and the bird in the ‘Gale’

Tone

  • Calm
  • Reasonable
  • Actualisation
  • Epiphany
  • Curious
  • Stable and absolute (by the end of the third stanza)

Expression of language

  • Learners should talk about the speech marks and capitalisation of the word ‘Hope’. Significance, importance and necessity of hope is showcased by this use of language. Speech marks shows the necessity of keeping it separate from the rest of the line, therefore emphasising the nature of being hopeful.
  • 15 dashes in total scattered throughout the poem. Firstly, this could symbolise the way how hope acts irregularly on you, causing you to randomly achieve things and have a boost in productivity (contemporaneous similarity). Learners could talk about how it is almost the way a bird flies, the dashes symbolising change in tempo and style to which the bird flies across the sky to its destination, which is how hope acts: twisting and turning. Sometimes we are motivated and sometimes we are not. It could also be inserted for multiple pauses, in order to almost spend time trying to ‘hear’ the ‘sing[ing]’ of the bird. This is to show that hope is truly auditory (auditory imagery).
  • Anaphora with the repetition of the word ‘And’ at the start of different lines. This is because there is always something more to say about hope because that is how majestic it is of an element in our lives.
  • Comment on the word ‘perches’ — using diction associated with birds, therefore truly transforming something which is abstract and an idea to something which is concrete and tangible – something alive. Hope is alive in us, like a bird, soaring through our souls (extended metaphor; visual imagery; diction; syntax; punctuation; auditory imagery).
  • Alliteration ‘without the words’, almost acoustic, pointing toward the way a bird (hope) may sing.
  • Learners can talk about the ‘tune’ and relate it to auditory imagery and how this impacts the reader
  • Learners can talk about how a ‘dash’ is placed in the last line of the first stanza to showcase the inability of hope from stopping, ‘at all’ again being alliteration and being acoustic in how pleasing the song is to our ears because it is beneficial to us and worthwhile.
  • ‘in the Gale’ separated and ‘is heard’ from the rest of the line in (caesura) in order to show the way the ‘Gale’ (capitalised; punctuation; learners should talk about the significance of this literary method AND why it is important AND the impact on the reader) attempts to render the impact of ‘Hope’ as an influence on ours lives.
  • Assonance where the words ‘sore’ and ‘storm’ are mentioned, in order to create an acoustic impact on readers and to highlight how particularly painful a storm must be to have the power or ability to attempt to drown out the voice of hope (the bird), almost personifying the storm as if it could feel pain or anger to want to destroy the influence of hope.
  • Landscape imagery, wind, storm, emptiness
  • Learners could talk about the rhyme between ‘storm’ and ‘warm’ in the second stanza, whereby it rhymes through consonance of the ‘rm’, reminding the storm that the bird of hope has helped many individuals in their life to achieve their goals and not be pessimistic, but be optimistic about the future and what they may possibly achieve.
  • ‘Ive’ — personalised attitude of the poet
  • Learners could talk about the capitalisation of the ‘Sea’ to show its grandiosity and magnificence in face of the Bird, but how the bird will never in any ‘Extremity’ (showcasing how bad times may get that will challenge the bird of hope); dashes put to exclude and emphasise how the bird of hope may ‘never’ ask a ‘crumb’ (also visual imagery and language pertaining to birds, carrying forward the extended metaphor therefore showing the poem to be truly consistent, which therefore helps the reader understand the point the poet is trying to make about how similar ‘the bird’, and feathers, is to hope) ‘of me’, whereby learners could talk about how though hope may stand up alone against any ‘Extremity’, it will never harm you or do you bad in times of harshness or terror. Hope will always guarantee you happiness and support, and will ask for nothing in return.

 

 

 

Hope (following Dickinson)

 

As precious as feathers,

and as strong as birds,

Hope will persist,

throughout the world.

 

Ammar H Khan © 2018

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