“Hope” Is the Thing with Feathers

    Spotlight Audio 3/2022
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    Transcript: “Hope” Is the Thing with Feathers

    When times are tough everyone needs a little hope to get them through. In Poetry Corner, we listen to a poem from Emily Dickinson that sees hope as a bird that keeps singing no matter how bad the weather.

    “Hope” Is the Thing with Feathers

    by Emily Elizabeth Dickinson (1830–1886)

    “Hope” is the thing with feathers –
    That to perchsitzen, hockenperches in the soul –
    And sings the tuneMelodie, Liedtune without the words –
    And never stops – at all –

    And sweetest – in the galeSturmGale – is heard –
    And sorehier: schlimm, heftigsore must be the storm –
    That could to abashin Verlegenheit bringen; hier: verstummenabash the little Bird
    That kept so many warm –

    I’ve heard it in the chillkalt, frostigchillest land –
    And on the strangest Sea –
    Yet – never – in extremityhier: äußerste NotExtremity,
    It asked a crumbKrümel, Brosamecrumb – of me.

    What’s it about?

    The first line makes it clear: The poem is about a bird, as a symbol of hope. Dickinson doesn’t tell us what sort of bird – or its shape or color. It’s just a small, unnamed bird, more like a sparrowSpatz, Sperlingsparrow than a doveTaubedove or an eagleAdlereagle. This little bird sits inside us and sings. It brings us hope, even in the worst storms of life. The storm can’t lower the bird’s spirits – for it will continue to sing. It cheers us up and keeps us warm in the coldest places and in the most remoteentfernt, abgelegenremote oceans. In the last two lines, Dickinson says the bird never asks her for anything in return, not even the smallest piece of bread. As a Christian, Dickinson sees hope as a gift from God.

    Good to know

    Dickinson lived a quiet, simple life, often in isolation, and hardly left her home in Amherst, Massachusetts. She didn’t welcome many visitors to the house, but did correspond widely with her friends, family, and acquaintanceBekannte(r)acquaintances, and often to enclosebeilegen, beifügenenclosed a poem with her letters. Only a handful of her poems were published during her lifetime. After the poet’s death, at the age of 55, her younger sister, Lavinia, found nearly 1,800 poems (including this one) among Dickinson’s papers. They were published from 1890.

    If you liked this poem

    “‘Hope’ Is the Thing with Feathers” has been made into a song for choirChorchoir and piano. There are several recordings available online, including a lovely lockdown recording by the Mountain Empire Children’s Choral Academy.

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