Select your language

Suggested languages for you:
Log In Start studying!
StudySmarter - The all-in-one study app.
4.8 • +11k Ratings
More than 3 Million Downloads
Free

All-in-one learning app

  • Flashcards
  • NotesNotes
  • ExplanationsExplanations
  • Study Planner
  • Textbook solutions
Start studying

Hope is the thing with feathers

Save Save
Print Print
Edit Edit
Sign up to use all features for free. Sign up now
X
Illustration You have already viewed an explanation Register now and access this and thousands of further explanations for free
English Literature

Emily Dickinson's poem '"Hope" is the thing with feathers' was composed in 1861 and published in 1891. It features an extended metaphor that runs through the poem. '"Hope" is the thing with feathers' centres on the theme of hope and is typically viewed as one of Dickinson's more positive poems.

Written In 1861
Written By Emily Dickinson
Form Lyric
StructureThree Quatrains
MeterBallad Meter
Rhyme SchemeABAB ABAB ABBB
Poetic DevicesAnaphoraMetaphorPathetic Fallacy
Frequently Noted ImageryBirds
ToneHopeful
Key ThemesHope
MeaningHope is a powerful emotion that is helpful to all people.

'Hope' is the thing with feathers: Poem

Let's discuss the background and context of the poem.

Biographical Context

Emily Dickinson was born in 1830 in Amherst, Massachusetts. '"Hope" is the thing with feathers' was written in 1961, following a decade of death in Emily Dickinson's life. During this period, many of Dickinson's contemporaries died, including her cousin, Sophia Holland and friend, Benjamin Franklin Newton. Some believe that the poem was composed by Dickinson to give herself comfort and reassurance during this time. This poem was published in 1891, following the poet's death in 1886.

Historical context

'Hope' is the thing with feathers' was written in 1861, at a time when the Second Great Awakening was occurring in America. This was a Protestant revival movement and was popular among Dickinson's family and friends. Emily Dickinson was raised Calvinis; however, she ultimately rejected religion as a teenager. Despite this, religious themes are still prevalent in her poems, including 'Hope' is the thing with feathers'. This is apparent in this poem, as hope is a central idea in Christianity and so this movement may have influenced how she describes it.

Literary context

Emily Dickinson’s work is heavily influenced by the American Romantics. During this movement, Dickinson focused on exploring the power of nature and how it can affect the human mind. In '"Hope" is the thing with feathers', Dickinson uses nature to describe hope, showing the influence that the Romantic movement had on her work.

Emily Dickinson and Romanticism.

Romanticism was founded in England in the early 1800s. The movement gained popularity in America soon after, as its emphases were adopted by figures such as Walt Whitman and Ralph Waldo Emerson. It emphasised the importance of nature and its impact on the individual experience. This influenced Emily Dickinson's poetry.

Emily Dickinson's 'Hope' is the thing with feathers

“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -
And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -
I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet - never - in Extremity,
It asked a crumb - of me."

'Hope' is the thing with feathers: summary

So what is the poem about?

Stanza One

In the first stanza of the poem the speaker states that hope is a creature with feathers that lives in the soul. The animal sings an unending, wordless song.

Stanza Two

The speaker in the second stanza of the poem discusses the conditions she hears the birdsong in. She states that the song can be heard even during storms and that the song keeps people warm.

Stanza Three

In the final stanza, the speaker states that she has heard the bird sing in especially cold places and very strange seas. The poem ends with the speaker stating that even in the most extreme conditions, the creature has never asked for anything in return.

'Hope' is the thing with feathers: structure

The poem has three stanzas. Each stanza is comprised of four lines - this is called a quatrain.

Form

'"Hope" is the thing with feathers' is a lyrical poem, as it expresses the personal feelings of the speaker regarding hope.

Lyric Poetry - A type of poem that expresses personal feelings or emotions.

The poem is also sometimes described as a definition poem. Definition poems introduce the concept it is trying to define in the first line.

Rhyme

The poem has a rhyme scheme. The first two stanzas are written as an ABAB rhyme scheme; however, in the first stanza there are slant rhymes.

Slant Rhyme - words that rhyme imperfectly together.

In the example below, 'feathers ' is a slant rhyme with 'words' while 'soul' is a slant rhyme with 'all'.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -"

Sometimes slant rhymes are easier to spot when read in the same accent as the poet. Try rhyming 'feathers' and 'words' in an American accent!

The ABAB is clearer in the second stanza as the rhymes are perfect. For example, 'heard' rhymes with 'Bird' and 'storm' rhymes with 'warm',

And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -"

While the final stanza changes to be an ABBB rhyme scheme as seen below, where 'land' has no rhyme while 'Sea', 'Extremity' and 'me' rhyme with each other.

I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet - never - in Extremity,
It asked a crumb - of me."

Dickinson changes the rhyme scheme during the poem to represent how hope can be transformative for the human soul. The poem starts with slant rhymes. Yet as the speaker begins to feel more hopeful, this change is seen in the poem as the rhyme scheme uses more perfect rhymes.

Meter

The poet also uses the common meter (lines alternate between eight and six syllables and are always written in an iambic pattern) in the poem. Common meter is used in both Romantic poetry and Christian hymns, which both have influenced this poem. As hymns are typically sung at Christian funerals, Dickinson uses the meter to reference this.

Common Meter - A metrical pattern where stanzas consist of four lines, alternating between iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter. It is commonly found in Christian hymns.

Iambic Trimeter - A line of poetry that consists of three metrical feet that are comprised of one unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable.

Iambic Tetrameter - A line of poetry that consists of four metrical feet that are comprised of one unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable.

'Hope' is the thing with feathers: literary devices

What literary devices are used in this poem?

Imagery

Imagery - Visually descriptive or figurative language.

Dickinson uses the imagery of a bird and its song to represent the emotion of hope in the poem. This imagery is seen throughout the poem as the speaker details how the song persists even through difficult conditions. The imagery of the birdsong is important as it portrays how even without words, this song (or what it represents) will positively and deeply affect the human spirit.

And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -
And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard - "

In this particular quote, enjambement is used to connect the two stanzas together. This furthers the imagery of birds in the poem, as it reflects the fluidity of the birdsong. The birdsong is so strong that it can not be restricted by a gale or a stanza and so bursts out of the form.

Anaphora

Anaphora - The repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of a series of lines.

The speaker in is experiencing hope and joy and is using anaphora to create a list of circumstances where the birdsong will continue.

That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -
And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -"

Dickinson repeats the words 'And' and 'That' at the start of these lines to emphasise the point. The anaphora is used to show enthusiasm, as the speaker excitedly describes how the birdsong can be heard even during a storm. It extends the power of hope, as it is the accumulation of the repeated 'and', which emphasises the reach that this emotion has on the soul.

Pathetic fallacy

Pathetic fallacy - Attributing human emotions to nature, typically the weather.

In the poem, Dickinson frequently references the weather when the speaker describes the persistence of the birdsong. Here, the weather represents moments of emotional turmoil or difficult times that the speaker must endure.

And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -
I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -"

The harsh conditions include a storm, the extreme cold, and the speaker states that the bird song will persist in these scenarios. Dickinson uses this to show that even in hard emotional times, hope will still be present.

Dashes and caesuras

Caesura - When there is a break in a line of a metrical foot. Typically this is achieved through punctuation.

Dashes are one of the most recognisable features of Emily Dickinson's work as she commonly uses them in her poetry. They are used to create pauses throughout the poem (or caesuras). In '"Hope" is the thing with feathers -', the dashes are used to place emphasis on the phrases that are placed after, or around the dashes.

And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -

Enjambement

Enjambement - When one line of poetry continues into the next line without a pause.

Dickinson contrasts her use of dashes and caesuras by also using enjambment (one line continuing into the other, with no punctuation breaks). By mixing these three devices, Dickinson creates an irregular structure to her poem that mirrors the irregularities of life.

'Hope' is the thing with feathers: metaphor

Metaphor - A figurative language technique where a word or phrase is applied to an object where it is not literally applicable.

Much of this poem is written in the form of an extended metaphor (where the metaphor continues throughout the entire poem). As the speaker attempts to redefine what hope is, she uses a metaphor to imagine the emotion in the form of a bird and its song. Birds are often used to symbolise hope, freedom, and peace and so they are used to represent how the emotion of hope can make people feel.

'Hope' is the thing with feathers: meaning

This poem focuses on the power of hope. The speaker is attempting to reimagine what hope may look like in a physical form, explaining how it can positively impact people when they are struggling.

The speaker's tone in this poem is hopeful as she tries to give a physical description to hope. Even when the speaker mentions times of trouble or sadness, the tone of the poem remains positive as she remembers that hope persists.

'Hope' is the thing with feathers - Key takeaways

  • The poem was composed in 1861 by Emily Dickinson and first published in 1891.
  • It is comprised of three quatrains written in common meter.
  • It is sometimes called a 'definition poem' as the speaker defines hope.
  • The poem's rhyme scheme is ABAB ABAB ABBB.
  • It features devices such as anaphora, metaphor and pathetic fallacy.
  • The main theme in the poem is hope.

Hope is the thing with feathers

While we can not be completely sure why Emily Dickinson wrote 'Hope' is the thing with feathers -', we do know that she composed the poem in 1861, following a decade where many of her close friends and relations became ill (some of whom died). Therefore, many feel that this poem was written as a way to remind the reader that hope will continue, even during emotionally difficult times. 

'Hope' is the thing with feathers' is about how the speaker imagines that hope is a bird that lives on the human soul. The bird's song lightens spirits and will persist even during harsh times.  

The message of 'Hope' is the thing with feathers -' is that hope is a powerful emotion that can aid people even while they are struggling. 

'Hope' is the thing with feathers -' was published in 1891. 

Dickinson is saying that hope is a powerful emotion that is able to help people while they are struggling, without asking for anything in return. 

Final Hope is the thing with feathers Quiz

Question

When was 'Hope' is the thing with feathers -' published?

Show answer

Answer

1891

Show question

Question

Who wrote 'Hope' is the things with feathers -'?

Show answer

Answer

Emily Dickinson

Show question

Question

What animal is featured in 'Hope' is the thing with feathers -'?

Show answer

Answer

Bird

Show question

Question

Where does the bird reside in the human body?

Show answer

Answer

The soul

Show question

Question

How many stanzas are in 'Hope' is the thing with feathers -'?

Show answer

Answer

3

Show question

Question

True or False - There are three sestets in 'Hope' is the thing with feathers 

Show answer

Answer

True - There are three sestets in 'Hope' is the thing with feathers 

Show question

Question

What is the rhyme scheme in 'Hope' is the thing with feathers -'?

Show answer

Answer

ABAB ABAB ABBB

Show question

Question

What meter is 'Hope' is the thing with feathers -' written in?

Show answer

Answer

Common Meter

Show question

Question

What two meters comprise a common meter?

Show answer

Answer

Iambic trimeter

Show question

Question

What does a storm represent in 'Hope' is the thing with feathers -'?

Show answer

Answer

Struggles people face in life.

Show question

Question

What is the main tone of 'Hope' is the thing with feathers -'?

Show answer

Answer

Hopeful

Show question

Question

What is the main theme in 'Hope' is the thing with feathers -'?

Show answer

Answer

Hope

Show question

Question

Is there an extended metaphor in 'Hope' is the thing with feathers -'?

Show answer

Answer

Yes! There is an extended metaphor in 'Hope' is the thing with feathers -' 

Show question

Question

What is the pathetic fallacy?

Show answer

Answer

Pathetic fallacy is a type of figurative language that involves attributing human emotions to nature, typically the weather. 

Show question

Question

What is anaphora?

Show answer

Answer

The repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of a series of lines.

Show question

60%

of the users don't pass the Hope is the thing with feathers quiz! Will you pass the quiz?

Start Quiz

Discover the right content for your subjects

No need to cheat if you have everything you need to succeed! Packed into one app!

Study Plan

Be perfectly prepared on time with an individual plan.

Quizzes

Test your knowledge with gamified quizzes.

Flashcards

Create and find flashcards in record time.

Notes

Create beautiful notes faster than ever before.

Study Sets

Have all your study materials in one place.

Documents

Upload unlimited documents and save them online.

Study Analytics

Identify your study strength and weaknesses.

Weekly Goals

Set individual study goals and earn points reaching them.

Smart Reminders

Stop procrastinating with our study reminders.

Rewards

Earn points, unlock badges and level up while studying.

Magic Marker

Create flashcards in notes completely automatically.

Smart Formatting

Create the most beautiful study materials using our templates.

Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.