This poem astonished me when I first read it because it has so much meaning that I still don't really understand it. Puzzling this out was what first caught my interest in Emily Dickinson. It was easy to imagined that she was facing herself gazing into a mirror reflecting upon hope as two people. There were a pair of them fondly creating a silent conspiracy against loneliness -- that all along she has been these many years never truly by herself but really someone within her own world-- her essence of being human--one believing nothing can be done and the other believing everything will be done - and hope as the chasm between them.
Using powerful and evocative imagery hope has become active and tangible as a bird living inside her soul, leaving no doubt that the metaphoric vehicle is indeed a bird even though Dickinson is clever enough to never call it directly by name. This bird sings its heartfelt song through .....the chillest land-
And on the strangest Sea- She completes and at the same time contradicts hope faultlessly.... Yet, never, in Extremity,
It asked a crumb-of Me capturing the barely fathomable idea that in all reality hope exists on nothing.
A tendency towards seclusion, rich with personal spirituality, her love of nature and children as well as a frank fascination with afterlife and death she began writing poetry seriously in her early 20's. Emily's life circumstances are interesting in that they are so unusual and her odd habits and lack of conformity that are what intrigues many readers. 'She was rumored to dress in white much of the time and would lower gingerbread down to children in a basket. When company came to visit she would run up the stairs to avoid them and in her later years she refused to leave her house believing she lived her life more fully that way.'
The most interesting things, of course, are her poems themselves and have had considerable influence on modern poetry. The first publication date for Hope is the thing with feathers was in 1891, the original text appeared in The Manuscript Books of Emily Dickinson, edited by R. W. Franklin. Writing in batches Emily bound her poems in fascicles or little packets. He wrote "Her hand is easily legible, although her habits of punctuation--a heavy use of dashes and periods--makes her manuscripts sometimes a challenge to read."
Her work was liberally 'corrected' by her early editors, but these attempts only served to complicate her unique sense of cadence and personal intimacy. The telling of a story by unconventional metaphors contributes greatly to her reputation as one of the most innovative poets of 19th-century American literature.
Bram, Robert Philips, Norma H. Dicky, "Dickinson, Emily Elizabeth," Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia , 1988.