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Hope is the thing with feathers: Rediscovering the Poetry of Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson

Heinz Chapel, University of Pittsburgh

I was never one for poetry. To be honest, I didn’t really understand it. However, I have always loved one poem.

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.

My older cousin copied those words out into a letter that she wrote to me. I must have been 12 or 13. At the time, I had a sneaking suspicion that I loved the poem simply because whatever my cousin did/read/thought had to be the coolest thing around. I am 19 now, and I still love the poem.

Years ago, I had purchased “The Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson” on a whim. I don’t think I got past the introduction (even though the introduction is quite interesting. For example, did you know that Emily Dickinson wrote almost 1800 poems, but only 7 were published in her lifetime?).

A couple days ago, I picked up the olive green book and started reading. Surprise surprise, I really liked it.

Even if I still don’t understand what some of the poems are really saying, the way that the words are put together are just so delicious when they rest in your mouth that you can’t help but read them aloud.

***

This is my letter to the world,
That never wrote to me,–
The simple news that Nature told,
With tender majesty.
Her message is committed
To hands I cannot see;
For love of her, sweet countrymen,
Judge tenderly of me!

***

For more poems by Emily Dikinson and more about her life, see the following selections. Available, of course, at your local library.

White Heat by Brenda Wineapple

White Heat portrays the remarkable relationship between America’s most beloved poet and the fiery abolitionist who first brought her work to the public. As the Civil War raged, an unlikely friendship was born between the reclusive poet Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson… When Dickinson sent Higginson four of her poems he realized he had encountered a wholly original genius; their intense correspondence continued for the next quarter century… An extraordinary story about poetry, politics, and love.

(Excerpt from Product Description)

Emily Dickinson: A Biography by Milton Meltzer

The Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson

The book that I am reading.

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.

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Emily Dickinson: Selected Poems

And something to leave you with:

There is no frigate like a book
To take us lands away,
Nor any coursers like a page
Of prancing poetry.


This traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of toll;
How frugal is the chariot
That bears a human soul!



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