“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops — at all -…
I still wonder why Emily Dickinson put quotation marks around the word “hope.” It’s as if she’s trying to capture it. If “hope” is a winged creature that can fly away, perhaps that’s why it takes off and seems to abandon us without warning.
Despair is easy. If hope is a bird, despair is a sloth, always near and waiting, in no hurry to lumber away. It’s easy to welcome the sloth when you feel overwhelmed by how much pain exists in the human experience, in your experience.
The world is a hard place, and feels especially so right now during the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting isolation. I feel despair sitting next to me, staring patiently, and I’m a person with a home and food and enough resources to get by.
Hope sometimes feels like a trick to me. I feel it warm me at times and don’t even know why. It flutters up behind me and flies into my heart and something glows. Then off it goes, the ever-present, patient sloth grins, and I feel like a fool for believing everything might be okay.
I believe this is how it will always be with me — these two animals taking turns, my spirit afloat and engaged, then heavy and lethargic, crawling from day to day.
But despair is easy. Today, let’s write about hope. Let’s take the chance that the thing with feathers exists and can be grasped, the way Dickinson’s quotation marks grasp the word.
Let’s look at Ha Jin’s “The Center,” a poem that calls us to be patient, persistent, and brave:
You must hold your quiet center,
where you do what only you can do…
only solitude is a lasting friend…
You must hold your distant center…
As long as you stay put year after year,
eventually you will find a world
beginning to revolve around you.
And finally, let’s end our poetry month with Gabrielle Calvocoressi’s poem “At Last the New Arriving:”
…the city will open its mouth and cry
It will feel better than any floor
that’s risen up to meet you. It will rise
like Easter bread, golden and familiar
in your grandmother’s hands…
Dance until your bones clatter. What a prize
you are. What a lucky sack of stars.