“Hope is the thing with feathers,” so the poem goes –
Hope is the thing with feathers –
that perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all.
It’s an Emily Dickinson poem. She goes on to say that this little bird, hope, sings even – and sweetest – in a storm, in the “chillest land” and “strangest sea” – and it never asks, even in the most dire circumstances, anything of us who hear its song, not even a crumb to sustain it.
Somehow over time, I’ve conflated that poem with lines from another, “The Shadowy Waters,” a “dramatic poem,” a long prose piece by W. B. Yeats: “What can they know of love that do not know she builds her nest upon a narrow ledge above a windy precipice?”
My mother loves to quote those lines from Yeats. She declaims them regularly, with a formal intonation reserved just for them. “What can they know of love?” she begins grandly, and goes on from there . . .
It’s funny that I’ve conflated them, because apart from the shared bird imagery, they actually offer almost opposite messages. The resilience of the bird of hope, singing even in the bleakest, direst circumstances. And the fragility, not exactly of the bird of love, but of love’s nest, love’s foundation – always precariously placed and beset by sharp winds.
But love is so much about hope, for our beloved, for ourselves, for the future . . . and hope is so much about love, we hope about things, people, events we cherish.
So, in this season of hope, in this state whose motto is Hope, in these precarious times, when we spend holidays with those we love – even when they make us crazy – let’s remember perhaps the cumulative message of those poems – hope and love, they are both resilient and fragile, they are with us when things are most dire, and we cannot take them for granted. They are winged and they lift us with them, but they always return from flight to a place where they are vulnerable.
May hope and love abide with us now, and may we abide with them and keep their nests safe as we are able. Happy holidays, everyone.
See you in church,
Rev. Liz Lerner Maclay, Minister
Office Hours: Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday