E Emily Dickinson

Hope is the Thing with Feathers by Emily Dickinson

‘Hope is the Thing with Feathers’ by Emily Dickinson is a poem about hope. It is depicted through the famous metaphor of a bird.

Emily Dickinson’s poem ‘Hope is the Thing with Feathers’ is perceived to have been published circa 1861. It was published posthumously as Poems by Emily Dickinson in her second collection by her sister. Dickinson uses hope, an abstract entity holding human spirits tightly, maneuvering their desire, trust, and spirits with its utter relentlessness. For her, hope can be signified as a bird, almost a living entity as humans.

The narrator perceives hope a-la a bird that resides inside humans. It persists dutifully without a break, singing constantly. Using metaphor, she emphasizes it sings vigorously during a hurricane, requiring a heavy storm to lay the bird in peace. As per the speaker, this bird never wavers by her side in coldest of lands and strangest of seas, yet it never demanded a bread crumb, singing away merrily.

Hope is the Thing with Feathers 
Emily Dickinson

“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 by Emily Dickinson

Poetic Form

As is the case with Emily Dickinson’s poems, ‘Hope is the Thing with Feathers’ employs an iambic trimeter which uses a fourth stress at each line’s end ‘And sings the tune without the words’. As her poetic trait, the rhythmic flow is modified and broken using dashes and breaks such as ‘And never stops-at-all’. In the case of stanzas, the verses of Emily Dickinson employs A-B-C-B scheme, whereas, in this poem, it uses carryover rhyming words for instance heard, extremity, and bird rhyme within their respective stanza. As a result, this forms the A-B-B-B rhyme scheme.

Poetic Structure

Rhyming and Techniques

Using approximate rhyme and quatrain, Emily successfully weaves a compelling poem. The rhyming scheme used is a-b-c-b is an erratic one. Each second and fourth are rhyming automatically. In the case of the second stanza, using the rhyming scheme a-b-a-b, the first and third verses rhyme with each other as does fourth and second. In the concluding stanza, the rhyming scheme is a-b-b-b, as per which, second, third, and fourth verses rhyme.


Using erratic punctuation is a key constituent of her poem. Using many dashes and hyphens in order to break and modify the flow of poetic rhythm is commonplace here. It’s done to give breaks and pauses while reading the poem. The rhythmic flow follows an iambic trimeter, accommodating the fourth stress as well.


Emily uses ‘that’ and ‘and’ during the entirety of ‘Hope is the Thing with Feathers’. Emily has used ‘And’ is used five times in the poem, showing the flip-flopping nature of humans.


The poet has made use of personification and metaphor in this poem. As hope is an inanimate object, therefore it is referred to as a bird/ thing with feathers. Dickinson gives hope some wings so as to keep it alive in human hearts.

Analysis of Hope is the Thing with Feathers

Stanza One

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

Emily Dickinson is an expert employer of metaphors, as she uses the small bird to convey her message, indicating that hope burns in the harshest of storms, coldest of winds, and in the unknown of seas for that matter, yet it never demands in return. It persists continuously within us, keeping us alive.

In the case of the first stanza, the narrator feels that hope can be deemed as a bird with feathers, singing in its own tune merrily. It may not speak any specific language, yet it’s certainly present within human souls. Just as importantly, Emily Dickinson voices that hope is an eternal spring, as it’s a vital constituent of human beings, enabling us to conquer unchartered territories.

Stanza Two

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

In the case of the second stanza, the poetess elucidates the expansive power hope wields over us. It gets merrier and sweeter as the storm gets mightier and relentless. The poetess deems that no storm can sway hope and its adamant attitude. According to the poetess, it would take a deadly storm of astronomical proportions to flatten the bird of hope that has kept the ship sailing for most men.

Stanza Three

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

In the last stanza, Emily Dickinson concludes her poem by stressing that hope retains its clarity and tensile strength in the harshest of conditions, yet it never demands in return for its valiant services. Hope is inherently powerful and certainly needs no polishing, as it steers the ship from one storm to another with efficacy.

The metaphorical aspect of ‘Hope is the Thing with Feathers’ is an old practice, used by well-known poets, the small bird represents hope in this poem. When abstract concepts are under study such as death, love, and hope, they are often represented by an object from nature, in this case, the bird.

Historical Context

Being a globally renowned poet of her time, Emily Dickinson lived quite a prosaic life. During years of American Civil War when Walt Whitman (contemporary American legend himself) tended to the wounded and addressed American themes; at a time when war had brought poverty and pain with Abraham Lincoln getting assassinated in the process, American years were tumultuous, to say the least, yet Emily Dickinson lived far from the madding crowd in Amherst, Massachusetts. She was born in the same house and met her demise there as well. The popular myth being that Emily was a literary hermit-genius, she was active in social circles and adored human interaction company. Moreover, her travels were limited to her countryside and native town, evidenced by her poetry which remains aloof of political connotations/ commentary altogether.

Lastly, Emily Dickinson hardly ever published her massive stock of 1800 poems, succumbing to depths of obliviousness. Only her sister stumbled upon the prolific collection and took the liberty to publish the massive literary work.

Whereas Walt Whitman adored and eulogized Lincoln as his political champion, Emily was known as the poetess of inwardness. Reading her poetic collection can indicate almost zero evidence of the timeline she lived in.

Personal Commentary

‘Hope is the Thing with Feathers’ is a beautiful metaphorically driven poem, using the bird in her usual homiletic style, inspired by religious poems and Psalms for that matter. Introducing her metaphorical device (the bird), and further elucidates its purpose of existence. Hope, according to Emily Dickinson is the sole abstract entity weathering storms after storms, bypassing hardships with eventual steadiness. It remains unabashed in the harshest of human conditions and circumstances, enabling a thicker skin on men.

‘Hope is the Thing with Feathers’ was one of the simplistic poems with a typified metaphorical connotation and device upon which rests the entire poem. Her themes, poems, and artistic flights of fancy took a wild turn during the 1860s. However, unlike her normative style, she uses the term ‘abashed’ to bring the casual reader into grounded reality. In essence, a bird cannot be abashed but the connotation is clear as per which hope remains afoot regardless of the severity of the storm.

Emily Dickinson had the unique trait of writing aphoristically, being able to compress lengthy detail into some words was her natural gift. Her prose is sweet, diamond-hard, delivering her message eloquently. As a result, at times, some of the poems can be taken at face value yet, layers upon layers are peeled off on later readings. Certain verses can have dual meanings, but their underlying message is irrevocably clear. As opposed to Hope is the bird with feathers poem, her various poems demonstrate heavy-handed difficulty with respect to description and observation. Some of her poems are twisted death-fantasies and metaphorical conceits, whereas she is an expert at addressing issues, amalgamating nature in her poetic fold with her usual flights of fancy, blending both with superior adroitness.

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Omer joined the Poem Analysis team back in November 2015. He has a keen eye for poetry and enjoys analysing them, providing his intereptation of poems from the past and present.
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