The Thing with Feathers
“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
I have a confession: I don’t particularly like Emily Dickinson.
I know you’re wondering know how a real faculty in a real English department at a real university could have given me a PhD given such a personal failure. Life is full of strange surprises.
But this poem? This one about hope? These words that everyone knows? This one gets to me.
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -
I’m a glass-half-empty type of person. I catastrophize. I imagine the worst-case scenario, hopped up on the adrenaline of anxiety far too late into the night. I wait for the other shoe to drop, for the worst to just happen already.
Is it possible that I have hope perching in my soul? Is it possible that hope sings beneath the buzz of worry and fear?
And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
I know the storm manufactured by anxiety. I have spent some time weathering the gales of pain and disillusionment and suffering. I don’t hear much when the storm is breaking over me. Perhaps I need to tune my ears to the quiet song of hope rather than the roar of the wind.
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
But if I can tune my ears to the quiet song rather than the raging storm, I might find that the song always continues. If I cannot hear it, perhaps I am not listening closely enough, carefully enough: the storm cannot end the song.
The song waits beneath the horror, beneath the pain and the suffering and the anxiety. Surely Pandora was overwhelmed by what flew out of the box, but she learned that the song of hope was there with the evils of the world all along.
We are all Pandora.
That kept so many warm -
When the storm rages, I crave soft blankets and hot drinks. I yearn for a warm body pressed against mine. A fire on the grate, the hot sun on my face: the song and the warmth twine together, amplify each other.
I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet - never - in Extremity,
It asked a crumb - of me.
Hope waits for us to find it, to hear it. Hope never chides us for despair, but buoys us up against the waves and the winds. Hope catches us as we begin to fall, leads us out of darkness, reminds us that it was waiting for us all along.
Hope alights in our soul, and then invites us to fly upwards with it. Hope persuades us to hear the song, not the storm. Hope warms us when all around us is damp and dark and cold.
Some days, hope is hard to find. Its song is quiet. It lies buried under fear and anxiety, under evils both all-too-real and only imagined. But it is not gone. It waits for us to find it, it waits to warm our souls, it waits to remind us that life and happiness and goodness exist beyond the storm.
We need only listen for hope’s rustling feathers and quiet song.