June 17 Emily Dickinson: Hope is a Thing with Feathers

Here I am still talking about similes and metaphors. This one was put in a special section of the textbook where the editor asked the reader to look at just a small piece of a poem, a selected simile or metaphor, and think about what is being compared and how (what is the most striking similarity). There are a number of dog and weather comparisons (who knew!). “Think of the storm roaming the sky uneasily like a dog looking for a place to sleep in, listen to it growling.” (Elizabeth Bishop, “Little Exercise”), “…the hounds of spring are on winter’s traces…” (Algernon Charles Swinburne, “Atlanta in Calydon”). Or dogs and nature. “…the sun gnaws the night’s bone…” (John Ridland, “Elegy for My Aunt”)

But I liked this one in particular. Wanting to contemplate hope right now. I’m not certain hope is a thing or even an emotion, it seems more of an idea. I would even go so far as to call it an ideal like Liberty or Freedom. It is a strange mythical creature that you’re not certain is real – like a phoenix (for me it’s a narwhal) – or something you want to believe is real like a unicorn – or even something you hope (despite all of your secular skepticism and healthy atheism) is real like an angel (not the control freaks in the bible, but the truly loving and wholly compassionate beings that only want to nurture the best in humankind and are patient with us when we fail to be our best).¬†Dickinson just compares it to a bird.

For many right now, it feels less common place – we see the greed and narcissism that run rampant in our society (the Wall Street Bankers who pay their way out of jail, the economic Conservatives who foster paranoia and lobby for only what’s theirs, the religious Right who want to erase anything from society they deem unpleasant) and we need to take a break from our newspapers and have a look down the street at the good people in our neighborhoods doing the small, good deeds for one another in order to get by, this helps us to relocate Humanity’s better self.

Even when we are at our work-a-day world and get to feeling ground down, clients complaining, bosses lecturing, people tired and angry cutting us off on the freeway; it makes us wonder if that 2,000 years of refining and reworking of our social systems was really worth the effort. But if we believe in what we are doing, then it is all overshadowed by hope. There is one other comparison to hope in a Coleridge quote, “Work without Hope draws nectar in a sieve…”

I want to think of hope as commonplace as a bird, because to quote the movie the Shawshank Redemption: “Hope is a good thing, the best of things, really.” (I sort of chose the title for this – it’s a bit of a misquote of the first line – the poem is actually untitled.)

Hope is a Thing with Feathers

by Emily Dickinson

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

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About penneloppe

I like to write horror, dark fantasy and crime fiction. Sometimes, I'll write science fiction, but usually I like to write science fact. I also write screenplays and stage plays. My day job is office work. I live in Seattle and I have a cat.
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