Little Feather

Little Feather

Emily Dickinson said, “Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul.” When I was teaching this poem in my high school English classes, I challenged the students to pause at the word “feathers” to think, really think, about why Dickinson chose that particular image to associate with hope. A poet, I reminded them, uses something from the material world to convey inner truth. So what could feathers teach us about hope? With a little coaxing, the ideas started to flow.

“Think about this,” I urged. “A feather pillow is soft and comforting—like hope is to a tired soul. When we rest on hope, we can face each new day with a brighter outlook.”
“Oh, yeah, I get it,” one of my students chimed in. “My mama bought us a down comforter. It’s full of tiny little feathers. It’s so warm on a cold night—kinda like hope warms you up and gets your blood flowing when all your dreams have turned cold!”
“Excellent,” I commended the good thinker. “Now, let’s take feathers in a different direction. What about a quill pen? Isn’t it made from a feather?”
“A feather that can write a note that lifts your spirits and gives you hope!”
“Exactly! Now you’re cooking!” I encouraged them.
“What about a feather duster?” another chimed in.
“Just as it can clean up a dirty house, hope can whisk away the cobwebs of worry and fear and anxiety from a troubled mind!” I added.
“Cool!”
“Hold on, Mrs. Barry, I’ve got a good one,” another student caught on, waving his hand excitedly. “You know that expression—‘a feather in your cap’—seems to me, it sure is a feather in your cap when you have hope!”
“I agree. Hope’s an added plus, a definite benefit. It’s like a little bird, full of brightly colored feathers, that perches on your window sill and cheers you up with its perky song.”
We could have gone on and on, but by then the students had gotten the message. Poetic imagery certainly opens doors to understanding and insight.
Today, as I reflect on this past teaching experience, I am reminded of my dear, long-time friend Renee. Why the connection? Because of something Renee told her son recently. When he asked his mom what she does all day, she replied, “Oh, I’m like a feather blown about by the wind of the Holy Spirit.” He laughed at the thought of his little mother (she’s under five feet!) flitting about New Iberia like the lone feather that landed at the feet of Forrest Gump in the movie by the same name. But, I can’t help but appreciate the accuracy and the wisdom in her choice of this image. Renee, the little feather, is hardly flitting about aimlessly. She’s driven by the Spirit, doing what all souls abandoned to God do—comforting the weary; bringing warmth to the lonely and forgotten; encouraging the downtrodden; brushing away needless worry. In a word, she’s spreading hope and bringing cheer. To have her for a friend is indeed a feather in my cap!
“Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul.” Emily Dickinson’s line has given me much to ponder, but Renee’s life has given that line wings and substance and has challenged me to become another little feather blown about on the wind of the Spirit.

Little Feather

Bonnie T.  Barry

Sunset, United States

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