Emily Dickinson is one of my favorite poets, and the title for this blog came from a poem by her. I think a lot of people my age find Dickinson inaccessible for her rather archaic styling and use of meter. It took me a long time and the happy convergence of some good English classes, Shakespeare directors, and writing professors before I was able to appreciate the value of meter. Dickinson wrote primarily in different hymn meters. "Amazing Grace" is a good example of a common meter, like the one she (roughly) used for "Hope is the thing with feathers." I do not consider myself foremost a poet, but I can say that the time I was assigned to write a poem in common hymn meter it came out sounding like a bad jingle. And I worked at it, I promise. So the fact that Dickinson can simultaneously use and subvert this wickedly difficult form and in the process write such unexpected and radiant poems is rather amazing to me.
And she was never recognized during her lifetime. Posthumous speculations posit that an anxiety disorder like agoraphobia may have been the cause of her eccentricities and reclusive habits, and scholars have mined her poems and letters for psychoanalytic details. I'm less interested with the precise nature of her disorder than with the brilliant glimpses of victory and struggle that emerge in her work. Her distillations of triumph, despair, love, dejection, fear, and hope ring true to me after more than a century and several changes of aesthetic taste. This metaphor of hope in particular lodged itself in my head even during times when I was about to give up. As a result, it seemed like the perfect title. Check out a beautifully illustrated anthology called My Letter to the World and Other Poems (Visions in Poetry) by Isabelle Arsenault for a haunting visual interpretation of her work.
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.