Literature Study GuidesPoems Of Emily Dickinson SelectedHope Is The Thing With Feathers Summary

Poems of Emily Dickinson (Selected) | Study Guide

Emily Dickinson

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"Hope" is the thing with feathers—

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Emily Dickinson's poem "'Hope' is the thing with feathers—."

Poems of Emily Dickinson (Selected) | "Hope" is the thing with feathers-- | Summary



The poem deviates from Dickinson's typical use of ballad meter only in the first line, which begins with the stressed syllable Hope as the word the rest of the poem then defines. In the poem, hope, characterized as a bird, sits delicately inside a person and cheers or charms the individual's soul. Hope is sweetest when things are most desperate, and it survives in the worst of circumstances. The speaker says she has had hope in the most difficult situations, always there for her and never asking for anything in return.


This poem uses a conceit, or extended (and in this case implied) metaphor, to compare Hope with a bird—"the thing with feathers." Like a bird Hope perches delicately, sings ceaselessly, buoys the soul, and keeps it warm even in the worst circumstances, even though, like a bird, it is fragile and slight. The speaker points out the song of Hope is "sweetest in the Gale," or during storms of adversity. This thought brings to mind the poet's "Success is counted sweetest / By those who ne'er succeed": that is, truth or knowledge depends upon one's perspective.

In the third stanza the speaker uses the pronoun I, indicating personal experience with both Extremity, or difficulties, and Hope. She has heard the bird sing in the coldest and most alien places, suggesting moments in her life when she felt most challenged and uncertain. By pointing out Hope "never ... / ... asked a crumb—of Me," the speaker makes the point Hope is always there; one doesn't have to do anything to use it.

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