Study Guide

Hope is the thing with feathers Speaker

By Emily Dickinson


Zig Ziglar. Tony Robbins. Emily Dickinson? We admit: we have a hard time imagining quiet little Emily with a headset mic on a stage, busting out the latest secrets to wealth, success, and personal happiness. So maybe she doesn't belong with these motivational speakers after all.

But still, the speaker of this poem is, at the end of day, putting down a pretty inspiring message, isn't she? Now, we say "she," but there are really no details provided in the poem to tell us whether this speaker is a man, woman, or motivational panda bear. That's not really important to the message here. What is important is that these lessons seem to be delivered by someone with experience.

Is that someone Emily Dickinson? Again, it's impossible to say. It's never a good idea to mix up your speakers with your poets, since poets often use invented characters as speakers in their poems. What we do know about this speaker, though, comes to us primarily from the poem's third stanza: "I've heard it in the chillest land -/ And on the strangest Sea –" (9-10). These are the first personal details we get and the first time that first-person point of view enters into the poem.

From this revelation, then, we can infer that our speaker is someone who has gone through tough times in life. She's had hardships, been knocked down, gotten the short end of the stick, and generally spent some time being thrown under the bus of life. To that point, we'd forgive you if you're reaction was "Duh." We mean, how else would she be able to tell us about how great hope was in the first place?

Still, it's important to note that our speaker is coming to us from a position of experience. She knows how great hope is, because she's had to rely on it herself—more than once. That's why we believe her when she tells us, "Yet - never - in Extremity,/ It asked a crumb - of me" (11-12). Our speaker has had brushes with hope in the past and, well, it's been pretty great. It helped her get through her tough times, it never went away, and, when all was said and done, it didn't even charge her for the service.

Even though we're not given any of the specifics of our speaker's brushes with hardship and her reliance on hope, her references to her past experiences make her seem like someone trustworthy, someone to whom we should listen. Ultimately, if she's selling hope, then we're buying.