“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 – ’ (F314B) is probably one of Dickinson’s best-known poems. Its message is deceptively simple. Hope is symbolised as a relentlessly singing bird that is embedded inside each human being. Life’s storm and gale cannot ‘abash’ this persistent ‘little Bird’. It will not cease singing even at times when we would prefer it to stop. It denies us the silence of despair, the certainty of doubt. This repetitious bird is indifferent to what is happening in our lives, is heedless of our ‘crumb’, is all sound and no sense. Yet this enduring songbird is part of us. It has made its home in our souls. It faces ‘Extremity’ with us in ‘the chilliest land’ and on ‘the strangest Sea’. Its tune wills us on, to survive, to continue, to try.