Is Emily Dickinson’s Bird a Chicken?

Poetry – I love it!  I love reading it.  I love listening to it.  I love absorbing it.  I love analyzing it.  I love writing it.  I love reading (and hearing) other people’s interpretations of it.

I read many essays about published literature in my job – high school junior English.  One assignment the students must submit is an essay analyzing metaphor and imagery in the poem “Hope is the Thing” by Emily Dickinson.

“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.
 
by Emily Dickinson

 

Reading the students’ thoughts about this poem can be very ‘enlightening’ at times. 

The thing is – I have discovered a form of recitation of this poem that I really enjoy.  And I want to share it with you.

Now. . . there are a couple of things about this musical rendition that do make me pause.  (After all, I am an English teacher.  Hellooo!)  Trailer Bride has changed a bit of the wording throughout the poem.  The worst thing is they changed the first line from “Hope is the thing with feathers” to “Hope is a thing with feathers.”  And they use a chicken in the video to represent “the thing with feathers.” 

To my mind, these changes disrupt a basic concept in this poem – the metaphor that compares hope to a bird.  I don’t think Dickinson was picturing a chicken when she wrote this poem.  Yes – a chicken is, technically, a bird.  But I think she envisioned a type of lovely bird that could soar through the sky.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t associate the words “lovely” and “soar” with a chicken.

Even with that faux pas (at least it is in my mind), I think this is an interesting and entertaining performance of the poem.  It could be that they used the chicken to be humorous, or make some kind of statement – I don’t know – and I don’t really want to analyze it ‘that’ deeply.  It makes me smile that a modern band has given a musical nod to a beautiful poem from this excellent 19th century poet. 

I hope it makes you smile.

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About grandawn

I work as administrative support in the Oklahoma State University Art Dept. For the past few years, I have been responsible for finances, paperwork, and other decisions for my parents who lived in Texas. Working now to finalize everything after Father's death in 2012 and Mother's death in 2013. I also keep busy blogging, writing children's books, and occasionally shooting commercials. I live in Oklahoma, USA. I have three wonderful grandchildren. I am a teacher, writer, actor, singer. . . and whatever else I can manage.
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12 Responses to Is Emily Dickinson’s Bird a Chicken?

  1. Lyndatjie says:

    I am just too happy when the youth of today embrace the rich past – so if they put a fun slant on it – good for them. What ever works for every crazy new generation! Lovely poem by the way!

  2. Adeeyoyo says:

    I love the first verse of the poem especially. I think they’re trying to be funny haha!

  3. New Attitude says:

    Indeed I think of a white dove when relating to hope….what a beautiful poem – thanks for sharing it

  4. granny1947 says:

    What a lovely poem.
    You are right…chicken….I think of stuffing and roast potoatoes!

  5. knittingmaestro says:

    In his defense…maybe a chicken IS the thing to hope for …….brings food in 2 different forms. Farm life can be difficult and farmers certainly think their livestock are beautiful. But then again…… a CHICKEN.?!?!?!?!?! LOL

  6. cindy says:

    I knew neither the poem nor this new band.
    No, I don’t understand the chicken at all 🙂

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