Hope is the Thing with Feathers

Hope is the thing with feathers

That perches in the soul,

And sings the tune without the words,

And never stops at all,

Hoffnung ist das Wesen mit Federn

Das sich in der Seele niederläßt,

Und die Melodie wortlos singt,

Und niemals damit aufhört,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;

And sore must be the storm

That could abash the little bird

That kept so many warm.

Und am lieblichsten hört es sich im Sturm an;

Wahrhaft wild muß das Unwetter sein

Das das kleine Vögelchen verstummen ließe

Das die Herzen so vieler erwärmt hat.

I’ve heard it in the chilliest land,

And on the strangest sea;

Yet, never, in extremity,

It asked a crumb of me.

Ich habe es in den kältesten Gefilden vernommen,

Und auf den fremdartigsten Ozeanen;

Jedoch hat es selbst in äußerster Not,

Nie etwas von mir verlangt.

Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) was arguably one of, if not the most introvert of American writers. She spent the majority of her adult life as a recluse in her room in the family’s home in Amherst, Massachusetts, where she composed nearly 2,000 poems. A mere seven were published—anonymously—during her lifetime, but not to great acclaim. Today she is considered one of America’s greatest poets and exemplifies that artists are often misunderstood or underappreciated in their own era.

I recall neither place nor time of my first encounter with the verses above, but in recent years they have often fluttered into my head and started to build a nest. While I will not attempt to interpret them, the association between feathered beings and hope resonates strongly with me. Ever since birds have given wings to my imagination—if not soul—their presence and well-being set my heart singing and strike a hopeful note for Planet Earth. As we know and mourn, their numbers have been declining globally, but some species formerly on the brink of the abyss have experienced a resurgence, thanks to concerted efforts from the human community, which proves what is possible if we act together.

While there are many, many reasons for concern, if not resignation, at the beginning of this new year, I choose hope over despair. May each of us work in our own little circle toward the preservation of this one-in-a-universe, wonder-filled sphere we call our home.

Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) dürfte eine der introvertiertesten amerikanischen Schriftsteller gewesen sein. Sie verbrachten den größten Teil des Erwachsenenalters in ihrem Zimmer im familiären Heim in Amherst, Massachusetts, wo sie fast 2.000 Gedichte verfaßte. Lediglich sieben davon wurden anonym während ihres Lebens veröffentlicht, ohne großen Erfolg. Heute wird sie als eine der besten amerikanischen Dichter angesehen, was veranschaulicht, daß viele Künstler in ihrer eigenen Zeit unverstanden waren, und nicht ausreichend gewürdigt wurden.

Ich kann mich weder an den Moment noch an den Ort erinnern, als ich meine erste Begegnung mit den obigen Versen hatte (bitte verzeiht meine dilettantische, sich nicht reimende Übersetzung), aber in den letzten Jahren sind sie mir öfter durch den Kopf geflattert und haben begonnen, dort ein Nest zu bauen. Ich werde nicht versuchen, sie zu interpretieren, aber die Assoziation zwischen gefiederten Wesen und Hoffnung findet bei mir großen Widerhall. Seitdem Vögel nicht nur meine Phantasie. sondern auch meine Seele beflügeln, bringen ihre Präsenz und Wohlergehen mein Herz zum Singen, und schlagen einen hoffnungsvollen Ton für unsere Erde an. Wie wir wissen und betrauern. sind ihre Zahlen weltweit rückläufig, doch sind einige Arten, die einst am Abgrund standen, vom fast-Tod wiederauferstanden, dank vereinter menschlicher Anstrengungen, die beweisen, was möglich ist, wenn wir unsere Kräfte vereinen.

Auch wenn es unendlich viele Gründe zur Besorgnis, wenn nicht sogar zur Resignation gibt, entscheide ich mich zu Beginn dieses neuen Jahres für Hoffnung anstatt Verzweiflung. Möge jede(r) von uns in unsererem kleinen Kreis tätig werden, um diese im Universum einmalige, mit Wundern gefüllte Sphäre zu erhalten, die unser einziges Zuhause ist.

61 thoughts on “Hope is the Thing with Feathers

  1. Wenn es auch tausende Gründen gibt pessimistisch zu sein, so bleibt für mich immer noch der Wahlspruch “Die Hoffnung stirbt zuletzt”. Wenn jeder von uns Erdbewohner, nur einen kleien Schritt zum Erhalt unserere Erde beiträgt, so sind des unzählige Schritte, die helfen unser schönen blauen Planeten zu erhalten. So lass uns hoffnungsvoll ins Jahr 2020 schreiten, mit dem Willen eines Pfadfinder “Jedern Tag eine gute Tat, für unserer Erde”
    LG Werner

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hello Tanja,
    What beautiful verses.
    Emily Dickinson is well-known here too, but it is a real treat to read in the original English.
    It sounds strange, but I think I can maybe relate to “why” she chose to be a recluse for much of her life. I am thankful her writings have survived, and have received the acclaim they so deserve.
    Like you, I choose to start the year with Hope.
    Reading this really did make my day, thank you!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Takami. You are not alone in being able to relate to Emily’s reclusiveness, and I also don’t think it’s strange to be feeling this way about society.

      I’m glad this post spoke to you. Many, if not all of us, want and need hope to live meaningful lives.

      I hope 2020 will be a good year for you and your loved ones.
      Tanja

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for sharing a message of hope at a moment in our planet’s history when it would be so easy to wallow in a mudpool of despair. Birds lift the spirits in so many ways, and to watch them going about their business always brings me joy.

    I’m aware of, but have never read, Emily Dickinson. I need to rectify that, I think … a New Year’s Resolution maybe?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think she had friends who thought she was talented, and who encouraged her to publish during her lifetime, but she relented. Her sister played a huge role in the posthumous publication, if I’m not mistaken. I hope to read a biography about her soon, didn’t get around to it before I posted this.
      Best wishes for the new year to you and Sandy as well.
      Tanja

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Liebe Tanja,

    das von Dir zitierte Feder-Poem war auch mein Erstlesekontakt mit Emily Dickisons außergewöhnlicher Lyrik.
    Ich habe vor einigen Jahren eine Rezension zu einer zweisprachigen (deutsch/englisch) Ausgabe
    ihrer Gedichte geschrieben.
    https://leselebenszeichen.wordpress.com/2015/02/18/emily-dickinson-gedichte/

    Emily Dickinsons Gedichte erschließen sich nicht dem flüchtig-oberflächlichen Blick, sondern nur der verbindlich-zugewandten Lektüre. Doch dann öffnen sich wunderbare Bedeutungshorizonte, und man hört das Herzenspochen unsterblicher Poesie.

    Mit der Hoffnung halte ich es wie Du, denn Hoffnung BEFLÜGELT!

    Herzensgruß von mir zu Dir

    Liked by 2 people

    • Dankeschön für den Link und Deine wie immer gut durchdachte und sorgsam geschriebene Rezension, liebe Ulrike.

      Ich freue mich darauf, weitere Gedichte von Emily Dickinson zu entdecken, und ich habe vor, eine Biographie über sie zu lesen. Die von Dir erwähnte Helen Hunt Jackson lebte einst in Colorado Springs und ich bin eine ihrer Bewunderinnen. Du hast mir damals ein Like hinterlassen, aber zur Erinnerung hänge ich den Link nochmals an.
      https://tanjabrittonwriter.com/2017/07/13/the-original-helen-hunt/

      Ich bin dankbar, daß wir alle zusammen an der Hoffnung festhalten. Möge sie uns beschwingen und beflügeln und gute Taten zur Folge haben.

      Mit den allerbesten Wünschen für Dich für das neue Jahr verbleibe ich herzlichst,
      Tanja

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Beautiful post, and close to my heart. I’ve visited Emily ‘s home in Amherst several times, and each time I come away more amazed by what she accomplished. Wonderful post for a new year, although I confess it seems harder and harder to remain positive.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am envious, as I would love to visit Emily’s home. I am enjoying reading a poem here and there from a collection, and I am in search of a good biography about her. Can you recommend one?

      I understand your feelings, as choosing hope and optimism is a constant struggle in the face of what is happening all across the globe.

      I apologize for having forgotten your first name which you wrote in a response once. Do you mind sharing it again? If not, I understand.

      Like

      • The classic bio is by Sewall, which is good. There is another one called “Lives Like Loaded Guns” which I always see in the bookstore. Emily’s family was pretty messed up, and it tells the whole story, which has has some pretty mean parts. You’d like Massachusetts as a writer, I’m sure. From my home in Central Mass, it’s a bit over and hour to Amherst, or, going the other way, less than an hour to Concord. Yikes- Emerson, Thoreau, Alcott –way too many houses to explore! And then, twenty minutes beyond that–Boston. So much history, so little time… Cheers, Julie

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you for the recommendation, Julie, I will look for Sewall’s award-winning biography first.

        I hope you don’t expect me to feel sorry for you for the multitude of cultural offerings you have at your fingertips! 🙂 It’s similar to our ever-growing TBR lists-one book at a time, one literary home at a time. Enjoy!

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Dickinson is one of my favorites, and this was one of the first of her poems that I learned. Did you know she was quite a gardener, too, and that those who maintain her home/museum have been restoring her garden to reflect her choices? It’s not an entirely impossible endeavor, since she also maintained a herbarium, now at Harvard, and many of her favorite flowers are included in it. There’s a great piece about that here. The article includes a link to a book about her gardens which I’ve read, and which is absolutely wonderful. It’s not a usual biography, but it was a great read.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. It’s a lovely poem and this is a lovely post, Tanja. I am embarrassed to say that while I have lived in Amherst for what is now the greater part of my life I have yet to visit her home (and that’s not because I don’t want to pay the admission fee 🙂 ) When I was in college at UMass it was common for students to visit her grave and some spent the night but to the best of my knowledge she never appeared to greet them. One of these days I will visit and photograph her gardens and if allowed the interior. It’s a lovely old home.
    Happy New Year, Tanja. I hope 2020 is a year where we all can soar and have our hopeful dreams come true.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. A wonderful, really wonderful, post, Tanja.

    Your images matched with Dickinson’s verse would have been enough, but you lead us to deeper levels by sharing the poem’s personal meaning for you and then inviting us to look outward with hope. The reasons for despair are large, the increments of hope small. Doing what we can within our circle of influence is a way of creating, not just finding, feathered things, perhaps.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I treasure your opinion, Andrea, thank you very much indeed.

      “The reasons for despair are large, the increments of hope small.” So well said. It seems that each new day brings more depressing tidings, and it takes a conscious effort to override all the negative thoughts and feelings of hopelessness that want to take root. It will take all of us to create feathered things, one at a time.

      Like

  9. What a beautiful way to start the new year! Emily Dickinson’s poems speak deeply to me as well and I heartily agree with you that hope must always be what fuels us to continue in the hard work of kindness and courage. Wishing you a very beautiful 2020!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. A lovely, hopeful message for the new year. I especially appreciated the adept weaving of bird allusions—fluttered, nest, wings, singing—into your post. Nicely done.

    Liked by 1 person

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