Emily Dickinson's Hope is the Thing with Feathers: Summary, Analysis & Theme

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  • 0:01 Emily Dickinson
  • 0:30 Themes of Dickinson's Poetry
  • 1:45 Writing Style
  • 2:22 Hope is the Thing with…
  • 4:00 Themes
  • 4:34 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Katie Surber

Katie has a Master's degree in English and has taught college level classes for ten years.

In this lesson, we will examine the life of Emily Dickinson and the major themes of her poetry. From there, we will focus on her poem 'Hope is the Thing with Feathers' and discuss how it relates to her life and themes.

Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson was born in 1830 in Massachusetts. Although she was very close to her father and siblings, she rarely left her house and had very few visitors. By the 1860s, Dickinson lived in almost complete isolation from the outside world but still maintained some relationships through letters. It is only after her death that her poetry was discovered and published. Since their publication, Dickinson has become recognized as one of the strongest voices in American poetry.

Themes of Dickinson's Poetry

Because Emily Dickinson lived much of her life inside, her poetry focuses on her inner struggles. Throughout her poems, she questions God and writes of her own struggles with faith, particularly in her sufferings. In addition, her poems also focus on her confusion with self-identity. Though she lives alone, she becomes someone through her writing. However, if no one is reading the poems, is she really a person?

Dickinson often feels imprisoned in her own body. Furthermore, Dickinson often relates this question of self to her questions of God. What role does God play in defining self? What situations does He create for people?

Finally, Dickinson often writes on the power of words. The strongest voice Dickinson has is her own; however, this voice is really only seen in her poetry. Poetry becomes her language and her way to communicate with the outside world. She also shows a strong relationship between nature and her poetry. Often times, nature becomes a symbol in her writing to explain the complexity of her relationships.

Writing Style

Dickinson's poems are usually lyrics, short poems with a single speaker who expresses thoughts and feelings. Although the poems are usually written with 'I,' this does not mean it represents Dickinson, just the speaker of the poem. Many of Dickinson's poems do not have titles but are now recognized by the first few lines of the poem. Finally, she usually follows a specific writing pattern, common meter, which is alternating lines of eight syllables and then six syllables. It is important while reading her poems to listen to the syllables and accented words to find the pattern.

'Hope Is the Thing With Feathers'

In this poem, Dickinson is creating a metaphor of hope through a bird. The hope that is within the speaker is much like a bird that continues to fly inside her. While we may all experience some dark times, hope can offer some encouragement.

The poem opens with the line 'Hope is the thing with feathers.' This starts the comparison of a bird. The rest of the stanza reads: 'That perches in the soul/And sings the tune without words/And never stops-at all.' For the speaker, the hope that is inside continues to sing at all times. Even when there are no words to sing, the bird continues to create a song. For the speaker, hope stays present, always singing, always flying.

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