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Emily Dickinson Hope Is The Thing With Feathers Essay Writer

Emily Dickinson: reclusive genius or overrated shut-in?

That's the kind of debate prompt that has poetry critics taking sides and cracking their knuckles over their laptops. Regardless of where they stand on the question, one thing is certain: Dickinson is one of the giants of American poetry, a figure who did her own thing—both in life and in her poems.

It wasn't always that way, though. Like so many folks who earn the label of "genius," Dickinson had to kick the bucket before her work was truly appreciated—or even published for that matter. She was born in 1830 in Amherst, Massachusetts to a father who was an aspiring community leader and politician. Given his domineering drive and, it has to be said, Emily's gender, she was quickly overshadowed.

On the plus side, she did enjoy the benefits of a good education. She did well in school, but she also developed a reputation for rebelliousness. She wasn't rude; she simply didn't follow the herd. That was particularly the case when it came to religion—which was a big part of schooling back in her day. Dickinson was down with G-o-d, but she was more interested in something else: poetry.

In fact, Dickinson left school after just one year at Mount Holyoke Seminary. She returned home to live with her family, where she pretty much stayed until she died—no husband, no all-inclusive cruise trips, not even so much as a long weekend in the Poconos. This fact has led a lot of folks to paint Dickinson as a reclusive spinster, hiding up in her room all day like some kind of nineteenth-century Howard Hughes with Kleenex boxes for slippers.

The reality, though, was that she enjoyed a lot of relationships, which she maintained by writing approximately… 60 million letters. Okay, so that might be a slight exaggeration, but Dickinson's letters are how we know so much about her life today.

We know, for example, that she was interested in publishing her poems, but that she wasn't a shameless self-promoter like some poets we could mention (looking at you, Mr. Whitman). She did manage to get a few things in print, but she wasn't known as a poet in her own lifetime.

Lucky for us, Dickinson kept all the poems she wrote—about 1,800 of them—in hand-stitched collections called "fascicles." When she died, in 1886, her family passed them along for publication. The first selection was published four years later, and it sold like gangbusters. Still, it wasn't until 1955 that the entirety of her collection made it into print.

And when it did come out, well, let's just say the editors left a pretty strong impression. They added titles, fixed punctuation, and pretty much hammered Dickinson's poor poems into a shape they liked better. It was only recently—in 1998, 112years after her poems were discovered—that the original versions of Dickinson's poems were published, preserving her mysterious dashes and spellings and re-ordering the poems in chronological order.

"'Hope' is the thing with feathers" is number 314 in that bunch. In its form and style, it's a poem that's typical of Dickinson's work: sparse but compact, philosophical but approachable, meditative but, ultimately, inspirational. But don't just take our word for it.

Why bother, right? You're never going to figure out calculus, that person that you're crushing on will never like you back, and Justin Bieber will never follow you on Twitter. You might was well just pull the covers up over your head and stay in bed for… approximately ever. After all, what's the point of even trying?

We're just so happy you asked that. Do we have a pep talk for you. Actually, Emily Dickinson is the one with the pep talk. She's laying it all out here in "'Hope' is the thing with feathers," and it goes a little something like this:

What's the point, you wonder? Why go on? I've got one word for you: hope. Hope is with us, every day, every step of the way. It will be there when you rip your pants at the school assembly. It will be there when your pet terrapin dies. It will be there at the very last game of the season, even though your favorite team hasn't won all year. Hope, Shmoopers, is what sustains you.

So when life is serving you a giant plate of lukewarm terribleness, remember this poem. It will remind you that there is a force in the universe, giving you a reason to get up the next day, to keep on keeping on.

Are you motivated yet? Just read the poem and you will be. Trust us—Emily Dickinson is practically a 19th-century poetic version of Matt Foley.

Emily Dickinson did not give titles to her poems so the first line is always given as the title. Her poems are also given numbers. In 1998 R.W.Franklin published a definitive version of her poems, closely following the poet's form and layout, and this poem is number 314.

First Stanza

The first word is given special emphasis with speech marks (inverted commas, quotation marks) as if the poet wants to define that elusive word "Hope", and she does so with metaphor. Hope has feathers and it can, like a bird, perch in the human soul. Feathers are soft and gentle to the touch but they are also strong in flight, even on tiny birds. And feathers are made up of complex individual fibres; unity is strength.

The imagery here grows stronger as the reader progresses. Not only is Hope feathery, it can sing. It sits on a perch and sings the whole time. But the song is special for there are no words, no diction for anyone to understand rationally.

It's as if Hope is pure song, pure feeling, a deep seated longing that can take flight at any time.

The song is endless. Note the double dash emphasis on - at all - and the stanza break which brings extra attention to these two little words.

Second Stanza

The first line is unusual in the use of the double dash - there are two distinct pauses which the reader has to be careful with. Hope is always singing as we know from the first stanza but it sings the sweetest when the going gets rough, when the Gale starts to blow. So, when life is hard and things are thrown at us, the pressure relentless, there is Hope, singing through the chaos and mayhem.

  • Note the first mention of the bird in line 7. It would take a hellish storm to embarrass or disconcert this bird (sore - angry and abash - embarrass) which protects many people from adverse situations. Hope is difficult to disturb, even when life seems hard.

Third Stanza

The personal pronoun I appears for the first time, indicating a personal connection to this subject perhaps? Emily Dickinson thought of herself as a little bird (a wren) so the link is direct.

The speaker has heard the bird during the hardest, coldest times, when emotions are churning and life surreal. But even when things are extreme Hope is still there and never asks for anything.

Hope gives us much but never asks for a crumb in return. It is all inspirational, yet slightly mysterious. Hope wells up in the heart and soul yet who knows where it comes from? Philosophy, religion, psychology and even metaphor are not sufficient - there is an abstract nature to Hope. It can give us strength to carry on in the most adverse of conditions. Its voice can be heard, despite the noise at the height of the storm.

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