Hope is the Thing with Feathers by Emily Dickinson

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. Emily 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 which 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.

The poetic analysis has been segmented into:

  • Poetic Form
  • Poetic Structure
  • Historical Perspective
  • Stanza Analysis
  • Personal Commentary


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 case of stanzas, the verses of Emily Dickinson employs A-B-C-B scheme, whereas in ‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers often 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

Emily Dickinson’s short poem, Hope is the Thing with Feathers makes use of the following poetic devices:


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 case of second stanza, using rhyming scheme a-b-a-b, first and third verses rhyme with each other as does fourth and second. In concluding stanza, 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 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 bird/ thing with feathers. Dickinson gives hope some wings so as to keep it alive in human hearts.


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 addressing 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. 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 has his political champion, Emily was known as poetess of inwardness. Reading her poetic collection can indicate almost zero evidence of the timeline she lived in.


Hope is the Thing with Feathers Analysis

Stanza 1

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 harshest of storms, coldest of winds and in unknown of seas for that matter, yet it never demands in return. It persists continuously within us, keeping us alive.

In case of first stanza, the narrator feels that hope can be deemed as 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 2

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 case of 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 3

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 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.


Personal Commentary

Hope is the bird with feathers is a beautiful metaphorically driven poem, using the bird in her usual homiletic style, inspired from 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 harshest of human conditions and circumstances, enabling a thicker skin on men.

Hope is the Thing with Feathers was one her of 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 1860s. However, unlike her normative style, she uses the term ‘abashed’ brings 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 poems can be taken at face-value yet, layers upon layers are peeled off on later readings. Certain verses can have dual-meanings, but its 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.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

What's your thoughts? Join the conversation by commenting
We make sure to reply to every comment submitted, so feel free to join the community and let us know by commenting below.

Get more Poetry Analysis like this in your inbox

Subscribe to our mailing list and get new poetry analysis updates straight to your inbox.

Thank you for subscribing.

Something went wrong.

  • Avatar luba volkov says:

    Hi, I’d like to use some f your information for my essay, and I need to write work cited, How should I cite your work in MLA format?

  • Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!
    Scroll Up