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.
Summary and Analysis
“Hope is the thing with feathers” is a kind of hymn of praise, written to honor the human capacity for hope. Using extended metaphor, the poem portrays hope as a bird that lives within the human soul; this bird sings come rain or shine, gale or storm, good times or bad. The poem argues that hope is miraculous and almost impossible to defeat. Furthermore, hope never asks for anything in return—it costs nothing for people to maintain hope. By extension, then, “Hope is the thing with feathers” implores its readers to make good use of hope—and to see it as an essential, deeply valuable part of themselves. The poem begins by establishing its key metaphor—that hope is a bird. It then tells the reader more about this bird, adding detail, before showing it in different situations. The poem concludes by stating that, despite all it does, hope never asks for anything from the speaker. Overall, then, the poem turns hope into a vivid imagined character in order to show how important it is, both to individuals and to humanity as a whole. The poem initially defines hope as “the thing with feathers.” Though it’s obvious that this is a bird (as confirmed in line 7), the unusualness of this first description shows that the poem wants the reader to look afresh at hope—to see hope with clear eyes and not take it for granted. Starting with “hope is a bird” would have the same literal meaning but would feel much less surprising, and the surprise element helps establish the poem’s purpose of redefining hope. This “Hope” bird “perches” in the soul, showing that the soul itself is hope’s home. Hope is thus directly linked with the human spirit, where it sings without ever stopping. This perseverance, then, is a representation of humanity’s infinite capacity for hope. Even in the depths of despair, the poem seems to say, people can still have hope—and this hope will sustain them. Indeed, the bird sings “sweetest” in the storm. In other words, hope shows its importance in times of adversity and seems to guide people through that adversity. This point could apply to humanity’s challenges in a general sense, or it could relate to more personal experiences like individual grief and loss. In either case, hope gives people the strength to carry on, and it’s at its most useful when circumstances are at their worst.