Exploring the Personification of Hope in the Poetry of Emily Dickinson

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Updated: Mar 31, 2023
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Analyzing “Hope” in poetry

I chose to compare and contrast two poems that both addressed the commonly known inspirational idea of hope. The specific poems I focused on were Emily Bronte’s poem titled “Hope” and Emily Dickinson’s poem titled “Hope” is the thing with feathers – (314). Dickinson’s poem very vividly takes on the task of being able to describe hope, such an intangible concept, by illustrating a small bird that just never stops singing. Hope is usually described as a positive concept associated with religion or spirituality.

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However, Emily Bronte’s poem captures a more tenuous relationship that some experience with hope. Bronte’s poem, in its entirety, visually captures the process of losing hope while subtly giving reasons as to why one might lose it. These poems both interestingly use metaphors and imagery to personify hope, yet they have completely different tones and describe different relationships to it. Thesis: While Dickinson’s poem focuses more on the beautiful aspects of Hope, Bronte’s poem is a reminder that hope can also evoke great sadness.

Dickinson’s poem opens with a vivid description that places hope as an inspirational concept. The stylistic way that the word “Hope” is placed in quotations in the opening line serves to both bring attention to the word itself and reveal the main subject of the stanza (1). The repetition of the word “And” at the beginning of many lines serves to portray Dickinson’s unending metaphor for the word hope. This is important because it shows how hope can embody many things at once and gives it some depth. The metaphor is first introduced in the first line, as Dickinson describes how hope is similar to a birdlike object “with feathers” (1). The next line reveals immediately reveals how the strength of this birdlike object, as it is able to penetrate “the soul” (2). This is important because it establishes a positive connection between hope and spirituality, making it more appealing. As the poem progresses, line by line, the image of hope gets a little clearer. The narrative form of the poem, through the use of many dashes, forces the reader to naturally pause between lines and at the end of lines. It allows the reader to really take in envision, and dwell on all that has been said about hope.

This technique, along with the rhymes present, creates a cheerful melody and peaceful tone throughout the poem. By line 3, hope has evolved yet again into the metaphor of “a small bird” with the ability to sing “without the words.” This natural and beautiful imagery of a singing bird has captured positivity in a subtle manner in such a simple statement yet is powerful. The imagery at the end of the first stanza further elaborates on the beauty of hope as it “never stops singing” (4). The last stanza focuses on how widely known hope is, as it is heard even in… “the chilliest lands” and on “the strangest seas” (9-10). These lines express the confidence that is placed with hope, which illuminates great comfort. The final lines of the poem seem to end on a positive note, as hope, even in “Extremity,” never asks for anything in return (11-12). Yet the word “Extremity,” through its capitalization, demands closer attention and a closer read. (11)

Although Dickinson’s metaphors capture the beauty of hope, it also subtly draws on its negative aspects of it. The last line of Dickinson’s poem, for instance, suggests that it is only in extreme conditions that one finds hope. That is, this line exposes the limitations and conditions of hope, insinuating that when things are going fine, it is nowhere to be found. Since hope is especially revealed to those “in extremity,” it introduces how intangible it can be. This subtle darkness associated with finding hope in extremity, along with the vivid metaphor of a flying bird, also embodies how hard it is for some to continuously have hope. Although Dickinson’s poem shows the many good things about what hope has done, this image of a flying bird also subtly captures its fragileness. A closer read of Dickinson’s poem, then, begins to hint at the conditional and varied experiences one can have with hope. Similarly, Bronte’s poem draws on the varied experiences one can have with hope while solely focusing on a strained relationship.

Bronte’s poem visually captures the sadness associated with knowing hope and having lost it. The opening line of Bronte’s poem begins by introducing this past complicated relationship to hope. Bronte’s first line states, “Hope Was but as a timid friend,” so immediately it is obvious that the relationship to hope has changed since the word “Was” is notably capitalized for emphasis (1). Bronte, by describing hope as “a timid friend,” establishes to the reader that hope is a layered concept (1). The opening line of the second stanza reveals what could have strained the relationship by describing how hope was “cruel in her fear” (5). The cruel word relays how hope, refused to help the narrator in the situation she was in. Bronte’s poem is already more focused on exposing the negative aspects of hope by drawing attention to its lack of credibility. As the poem progresses, the imagery darkens, and the tone shifts to a more cynical one. Lines 7 and 8 express how, just as the narrator is attempting to look and find hope, “she turned her face away.” The third stanza further strips hope of its credibility by describing how she is nothing more than a “false guard, false watchkeeping” (9).

The repetition of the word “false” exalts how the friendship with hope is now considered non-existent, an illusion, and fake (9). This stanza ends by affirming the illusion, as Bronte states, “She would sing while I was weeping/ if I listened she would cease” (11-12). This line is important because it further shreds all of hope’s credibility and stability, as it could only momentarily comfort the narrator. As indicated by line 12, as soon as she began to feel more optimistic, her hope would suddenly vanish. This lack of security is affirmed in the last stanzas, as even the word “Sorrowful” is capitalized to emphasize the feeling of despair. By consistently focusing on this game of hide and seek between the speaker and hope itself, Bronte expresses how hope has ultimately failed to bring her happiness. The fifth stanza finally serves to reveal the narrator’s dissolved relationship with hope. In the opening lines of this final stanza, hope is exposed and ridiculed for its lack of action. It is clear that hope could have stopped the “frenzied pain” with just a “whisper,” yet instead chose to do nothing but fly away (17-18). Bronte ends the poem by stating that hope has left and “ne’er returned again” (20). This serves to express how the narrator’s relationship with hope is forever lost and forever tainted. Bronte’s poem exposes the sad fact that some people will just always have an ambivalent relationship to hope. Hope, by the end of the poem, is portrayed in the worst light, as this final image of hopelessness is exalted.

Although both poems tackle the same concept of hope, there is a significant contrast in tone, attitude, and message. As both poems use imagery and metaphors to begin to unravel what shapes hope can take, they similarly evoke a birdlike image. Both poems also tie this bird the image of hope to spirituality as Dickinson references the “soul” and Bronte references “heaven.” Both poems contrast greatly by expressing different views and relationships with hope. With these experiences, attitudes, and overall tones, the poems are committed to the server to express varying life messages.

Starting with the tone, for the most part, Dickinson’s poem conveys hope in a light-hearted, warm, and fun manner. In Dickinson’s poem, hope is exalted positively through the use of the words “warm” and “sweetest” (5-8). This contrasts with Bronte’s poem, which evokes a much gloomier and darker attitude with hope. This persistently skeptical attitude is captured through specific words like “cruel,” “fear,” “dreary,” “unrelenting,” and “false” (5-10). These words consistently draw on dark and very sad emotions. This contrasts with Dickinson’s poem greatly since they express the idea that not all people have this optimistically blind relationship with hope. While Hope in Dickinson’s poem is maintained throughout and portrayed as enduring, Bronte’s poem captures the fragility of hope as she describes one person’s struggle to keep it. It is clear after reading both poems that hope is not found by everyone, and in more tragic cases, like in Bronte’s poem, sometimes it can be lost forever.

In sum, Dickinson’s poem highlights the beauty of hope, while Bronte’s poem draws on the sorrow associated with a strained relationship with hope. Although both poems use the same metaphor of a flying bird, which is connected to religion, they contrast in tone and attitude. Dickinson’s poem, for instance, mostly captures the positive effects hope brings to those who have heard it sing. Dickinson portrays hope in a heart-warming, helpful, and enduring manner through the layered metaphor of a singing bird that never stops singing. Across the globe, it is clear that there is a shared goodness that hope gives to those who find it.

Although Dickinson’s poem captures the bliss that hope brings, it also simultaneously suggests that hope is sometimes fragile, as only in devastation can it be obtained. Bronte’s poem draws on this fragileness of hope as she evokes this ambiguous relationship that some have experienced. The poem, as a whole, reminds the audience that hope does not bring everyone the same joy. Hope is often viewed in optimistic lighting, as many flocks and lean on the positivity of aspiring to gain something new that hope brings. However, in Bronte’s poem, she constantly exalts this cruel hide-and-seek game that hopes sometimes plays. By focusing on how fragile hope is, Bronte introduces the lack of security associated with hope, as it does not comfort the narrator for long. Ultimately, Bronte’s very unimpressed attitude, and dark imagery of hope, reveal that hope does not turn out the same for everyone.

Work Cited

  1. Brontë, Emily. “Hope, by Emily Brontë.” Poeticous, Poeticous, 10 Feb. 2016, www.poeticous.com/emily-bronte/hope-2.
  2. Dickinson, Emily. “‘Hope’ Is the Thing with Feathers – (314) by…” Poetry Foundation, Poetry Foundation, www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/42889/hope-is-the-thing-with-feathers-314.
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Exploring the Personification of Hope in the Poetry of Emily Dickinson. (2023, Mar 31). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/exploring-the-personification-of-hope-in-the-poetry-of-emily-dickinson/