What is the Thing With Feathers and Where is it Now?

I wanted to write a blog post about hope today.

About how it is different, but related to, expectation, and of how difficult it is to keep.

Of how I’m often not sure what hope is and often feel as if I have none.

And of how Emily Dickinson’s poem sometimes restores me in those moments when hope feels the most nebulous:

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.

Ah, the salve of poetry on the soul. Words strung in a certain and deliberate manner creating a feeling of centeredness amid confusion and chaos.

Dickinson’s couching an abstract idea like hope within the apt imagery of “feathers” and “tune,” “storm” and “chillest land” is, of course, why her poetry has withstood time and fashion to resonate with readers today.

And there are no more fitting or contemporaneous events than those which took place in Charlottesville, VA this past weekend to prompt contemplation on the subject again. To ask, what does hope stands for?

Not unlike Dickinson’s bird, I see hope as fleeting, at best, and while it may in fact sing a tune somewhere beyond the wind and clouds of whatever storm is blowing through life at the moment, I am generally too busy dodging rain drops and lightning strikes to think about it, much less hear it. 

I guess all that running around is a necessary function of survival. The ego keeping me from doing something stupid during a downpour that might get me killed. The fight or flight response to a life-threatening situation helping me to survive that situation.

There was a time I rather liked the excitement and danger of running around in storms. These days, though, I generally prefer to stay out of the wind and rain, if given the choice.

But since I am speaking in metaphor, the kinds of storms I really mean don’t stop just because I’m inside, and they certainly don’t care what my past may have taught me about surviving,

Or loving.

Or hoping.

And they almost always require that I leave the comforts of home.

Other times, it’s just a big old-shit storm.

I mean, something ugly and racist, hateful and riotous. Something that gains frenzied, savage energy with every violent projection and slur. Something that thrives in the absence of rational thought and perpetuates fear with architectural precision.

The kind of shit-storm expressly designed to extinguish the hope Dickinson envisions, the kind of hope I choose to believe in.

I don’t know where that little bird may be right now, maybe off somewhere singing its tune as Dickinson suggests. Maybe beyond the clouds, maybe even over a rainbow.

But for now, I’ve grabbed a pair binoculars.

For now, I’m watching out.

2 thoughts on “What is the Thing With Feathers and Where is it Now?

  1. Pingback: A Focused Free-Write Poetry Prompt | Zingara Poetry Review

  2. Pingback: September Digest for Zingara Poetry Review, Including News and Events | Zingara Poetry Review

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