“The Thing with Feathers”


When I started thinking about writing a blog series on hope, the first words that popped in my mind were “Hope is the thing with feathers  . . .”  

Emily Dickinson has been my favorite poet since high school.  Many times I read one of her poems with no idea at first about what it meant, but loving the originality of the phrasing, the odd twist of words, or the striking metaphor. So I’m beginning my journey with hope with this first stanza of Dickinson’s lovely poem on hope:

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

I picture Emily sitting in her upstairs bedroom/writing room in the family home in Amherst, Massachusetts where she lived in seclusion from her late twenties until her death at 55.  It is early morning, and as she writes, she listens with delight to a bird chirping for all the world download (1)to hear. She probably hears that perfect melody (that needs no words) each morning. She remembers hearing the song in the sweet sunshine, in the driving rain, in a blustery windstorm, and when a chill is in the air.  And  she uses the metaphor of a bird’s song to talk to us about hope.

Dickinson writes that hope is “perched in our souls” singing to our hearts continually. The song is always about joy and delight and love and grace – no matter what our mood is, no matter what turmoil is going on around us. We don’t need to hear the words of the song to find hope. We don’t need to search the song for some logic or plan or even for words to pray. We can just welcome the melody and thank God for the gift of inspiration.

However, as always, we have choices. We  can open the window so we hear the song more clearly or we can leave the room, shut the door, and shut out the song – and the hope.  Sometimes, perversely, we choose to shut out the hope.  I know that I need to train myself to listen for the song and rejoice in it, rather than letting anxiety or fear drown it out. Because hope changes everything!


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1 Response to “The Thing with Feathers”

  1. Nancy Miller says:

    Karen, I don’t like writing comments for others to read, but here’s one more thing you and I have in common. It seems I continue to discover that. Emily Dickinson has long been one of my very favorite poets. I love her imagery, her turn of phrase, her ability bo connect nature with the soul. What you’ve written about her and hope here is wonderful. I too need to be reminded of that.


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