I must confess I have a deep love for most things with feathers. Feather dusters, feather hats, and the seemingly endless stream of small feathered creatures who somehow know that I always have a spare morsel for them somewhere on me. But for all of those, my favorite thing with feathers is a short bit of poetry that perfectly describes my feelings towards the hero who wrote it— ”hope”, 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 –
The sheer volume of Emily Dickinson’s poetry is astounding: she wrote some 1800 poems in her 56 years. But to me, that’s only half of why I look up to her so much—because in all that time, in all her years writing poetry, only 10 of them were ever published, and those to not much acclaim. In the face of very little success, without knowing she would one day confound every freshman English student, she never stopped – 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 –
Even the poetry that was published, 4 years after her death, was published heavily edited, without the inflections and grammar that make her poetry what we know it today. And part of me wishes she could know: that the thought of someone editing Emily Dickinson’s poetry on her behalf would be, today, laughable. And that all her internal struggles with isolation and the realities of death produced poetry that has helped countless people face those things for themselves. Part of me thinks it a great injustice she never knew that. An injustice that she never got to experience the fruit of her work, the success and money that she earned. But then I read this poem and think, she did know. She didn’t need the accolades or the success, the fame, or the riches. She knew everything she needed when she wrote these words:
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.
She had everything she needed—the skill to write and the courage to continue, even when no one was listening. So if you, like Emily Dickinson, find yourself isolated, literally or emotionally, see if you too can listen – and find the tune without the words – from the warm little bird – that perches in the soul – the thing with feathers – “hope”
May the road rise up to meet you!