in English Literature, Poetry

Below, you’ll find an analysis of the poem “Hope is the thing with feathers” by Emily Dickinson.

Includes a breakdown of the stanzas, an insight into the speaker + voice of the poem, and an exploration of the themes and deeper meanings. This is only a quick overview to help you get to grips with the poem; you can access a full in-depth breakdown of the poem below.

LINK TO THE FULL POEM

Thanks for reading! If you’re studying this particular poem, you can buy our detailed study guide here. This includes:

  • Vocabulary
  • Story + Summary
  • Speaker + Voice
  • Language Feature Analysis
  • Form and Structure Analysis
  • Context
  • Attitudes + Messages
  • Themes + Deeper Ideas
  • Key Quotations
  • Extra tasks to complete by yourself

If you’re interested in our complete Emily Dickinson course, click here.

For all our English Literature and Language courses, click here.


STORY/SUMMARY

Stanza 1: Hope is a bird-like thing with feathers, that sits on the porch of the soul – it sings a song without any lyrics, and never stops singing. 

Stanza 2: Its song sounds the sweetest when there’s a storm blowing; it takes a very sore and extreme storm to embarrass it and stop its song – the presence of Hope keeps so many people warm in times of distress and difficulty. 

Stanza 3: I have heard Hope’s song often – it has helped me in the coldest lands – and in the strangest sea – but it never asked me to do anything back for it, even in the most difficult and extreme circumstances. 

SPEAKER/VOICE


The speaker has a laudatory tone as she praises the virtues of the feeling of Hope, which is personified as a bird using an extended metaphor throughout the poem. The song of Hope gives ‘warmth’ to the darkest and most difficult times in a person’s life, and most importantly it never requires anything back – it is a purely comforting and altruistic presence in the poem that helps the speaker through her states of suffering.

CONTEXT

Written in 1861, Dickinson was at this time undergoing a process of withdrawing from society and becoming a reclusive character who spent her time at her family’s home ‘The Homestead’ in Amherst, Massachusetts. Though the reasons for her choosing to withdraw are unknown, by the time she was 30 years old (in 1860) she barely ventured beyond the boundaries of her home. 

The American Civil War began in 1861, the same year that the poem was likely written. Dickinson is therefore perhaps commenting generally on the tense, difficult years that she expects to follow – trying to counteract the sense of impending doom with a positive message about hope and motivation. American Romanticism – Dickinson’s poetry draws on several different genres and traditions, but this poem, in particular, seems to chime well with the sentiments of American Romanticism. This was a literary movement that occurred between the 1820s-1860s, with American writers being influenced by the sentiments of the English Romantic Poets to produce their own cultural equivalent. Typical characteristics of American Romanticism include a focus on individualism and trying to appreciate a full spectrum of human emotions, as well as presenting faith in the power of the human mind, as well as exploring the relationship between inner experience and the outer world – all of these characteristics are reflected in this poem.


Thanks for reading! If you’re interested in our complete Emily Dickinson course, click here. For all our English Literature and Language courses, click here.

Write a Comment

Comment