“Hope” is the thing with feathers —

by Elouise

emily-dickinson-hope-is-the-thing-with-feathers-pinterest

Emily’s poem for today is a gem. A gift for anyone who feels distressed about the state of this world or what lies ahead in 2017. My comments follow.

“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.

c. 1861

Emily Dickinson Poems, Edited by Brenda Hillman
Shambhala Pocket Classics, Shambhala 1995

I hear Emily saying something like this.

  • I can’t manufacture Hope on my own or even with my friends. Sometimes people exhort me to have hope. I can’t. It’s already there. Like a little bird perched in my soul. Singing its heart out nonstop, without words or a sheet of music in front of it. Am I listening?
  • Hope isn’t linked to the time of day or night. Or to the weather and what the outlook is for tomorrow. It’s there regardless of circumstances, singing its ‘tune without the words.’ Sweet, strong, welcome, heartwarming and life affirming.
  • It seems nothing can shame or humiliate this little thing with feathers. It doesn’t shut up and it doesn’t go slinking off in defeat or humiliation. It sings out with sweet clarity, especially when things look most hopeless.
  • Hope keeps our spirits alive, ‘warm’ even in the ‘chillest land.’ It doesn’t offer us a plan of action or a map that will get us through hard times. Neither does it pretend times aren’t hard. Instead, it accompanies us through the hard times, lifting its voice in a way that lifts our spirits.
  • Best of all, Hope is a gift. It doesn’t ask anything of us, even when things get really rough. Not a crumb, not a dime. In fact, should we decide things are hopeless, I think Emily’s little Bird would just keep singing its heart out on our behalf. It doesn’t even demand that we listen.

One more thought. Whatever Hope is, it isn’t denial. In fact, I think Emily’s poem doesn’t work if Hope is supposed to erase or numb reality. Nor is Hope a crutch to get us from here to there with empty smiles pasted on our faces.

I believe Hope can open our eyes to see possibilities precisely where and when we least expect them. Often with people we least expected to meet or invite into our lives. Little Birds have exceptional eyes, not just exceptional songs.

My prayer today is that we’ll listen to Hope and be alert for unexpected possibilities, especially in what seem to be gale-force winds already on the rise.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 7 January 2017
Image found at pinterest.com