This poem is a simple, metaphorical description of hope as a bird singing in the soul. Other poets had already compared hope to a bird, but “thing with feathers” is brilliant. Here, as with many of her poems, Dickinson takes an abstract feeling or idea and compares it to something physical, visible, tangible.
This bird never stops singing tune that is wordless, because this song within the soul is non-linguistic, non-rational, instinctive.
This song/feeling sounds “sweetest” in dark times of despair, when there is bad weather, such as a strong wind ( a “gale”), and even in times of cold discomfort (“the chillest land”) or in foreign or unfamiliar countries (“on the strangest Sea”), hope is there for us. When things are at their roughest, when everything is falling apart, we are not neglected by hope —a force that has always helped so many people (“kept so many warm”)
It can endure anything and it never asks for anything in return. It just provides comfort and solace as a free gift, therefore we ought to let it fly and sing freely its song which can be heard everywhere and by everyone. Dickinson emphasizes that hope is the last instinct we have when all else is gone, and yet it asks nothing from us.
“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.