As I celebrate 38 years, it’s interesting to look at how perspectives change from year to year: how priorities change, how little things aren’t so little, big things aren’t so big… and how some things never change. Among those things are love, beauty, song, faith, hope – though these may appear in different ways, their essence does not change. In honor of the birthday of a favorite poet of mine, I will repost a blog entry from December 10, 2007. And you’ll see why this entry earned its title.
I love simplicity. It is often in the “simple” that the profound depths of life can be glimpsed, I think. So it is that my favorite poet (whose birthday I share) is known for her simplicity. Nineteenth century poet Emily Dickinson is known for the short, lyrical verse that was simple on one level, but somewhat profound for those who wish to dig deeper. A lover of nature, Dickinson could paint exquisite pictures with her words. One of my favorites – one that flits through my mind quite frequently, in fact – is the poem I refer to in today’s title:
Hope is the thing with feathers,
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all.
(Two more brief stanzas complete the poem.)
I would love to know the point in life at which Emily penned this particular poem. She is often remembered as a hermit of sorts, one who rarely traveled and who became more reclusive as she became older. Reading more about Dickinson’s life, though, I found that the vast majority of her adult life was spent at the family home in Amherst not simply due to Emily’s love of solitude, but because her father needed her to stay there as the caregiver of her mother, frequently described as an invalid. So how had Dickinson experienced the “hope” she wrote of, the little bird that perched on her soul and didn’t give up its song? The next stanza goes on to tell us that the little bird’s song is sweetest amidst difficulty, that it would take quite a storm to knock the bird from its perch.
The picture of the tiny, impossibly strong bird may seem unlikely. Though we weren’t talking of poetry, a study group I’m a part of was recently reading Romans 5:3-4, “Suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” And our conversation had us wondering – why suffering? Couldn’t we just skip that step?
During Thanksgiving time, I mentioned how I couldn’t be thankful for MS, but I know that, in many ways, my life is richer because of it. As Emily told us of the bird’s song that is sweetest amidst the gale, the song of hope that became stronger when faced with struggle. Emily Dickinson died at the age of 56, having written well over a thousand poems, with 800 of them hand bound into books of her own… and less than a dozen published during her lifetime. I am indeed thankful that despite (or because of) Emily Dickinson’s own struggle with family illness, personal illness, depression and loss, she left behind her own volumes of verse. Emily Dickinson is still known as one of the foremost American poets, with so much of her inner struggle “invisible” to those around her until after her death 120 years ago. She didn’t mention the reasons for the hope to flourish in the midst of these issues, but reading Romans 5 along with her verse does indeed paint a picture of hope that we have: perhaps hope for physical healing, but more importantly that hope for peace while facing life’s storms. Romans 5:3-4 is not complete without the following verse, which goes on to promise that this hope will not disappoint us.
So happy birthday Emily (she was born Decembeer 10, 1830)! My wish for each of you is that you find that hope, even when facing life’s storms.