Wednesday, July 2, 2008


Once I read Feathers by Jacqueline Woodson, which makes frequent mention of Emily Dickinson's well-known poem. The book makes use of mostly just the first two lines, but here is the whole poem for those who dislike incomplete poetry:

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 chilliest land

And on the strangest sea;

Yet, never, in extremity,

It asked a crumb of me.

The book was okay. It didn't really have a plot, which makes it more difficult for me to enjoy, but oh well. I stayed up very late to finish it anyway, since that's what I do when I read. The interesting part came the next morning, when I woke up and went outside to find...


All over the driveway.

At first I didn't remember that I had read that book the previous night. I only thought of the cats, and wondered which cat had done it--Big Orange Fluffy or some other neighborhood cat (since Anya would be far out of her realm catching birds).

The feathers were scattered across the lawn and driveway, caught in the plants, blown onto the roof, and there was a cluster of them near the planter. Oddly enough, there was no other sign of a dead bird, and judging by the large amount of feathers, I felt pretty safe in assuming the bird was, in fact, dead. I thought it strange that the cat should do such a thorough job (I learned later that the bird had been taken care of before I went outside).

As I stared at the strange puffy disease-ridden feathers I remembered the book I'd read, and the two lines that were repeated so frequently: "Hope is the thing with feathers/ That perches in the soul."

I didn't think it was a sign. But I did think it was ironic: my cat killed the thing with feathers.


Kathleen said...

I've always known cats were scary...

Olive Kite said...

"That perches in the soul."

Olive Kite said...

The hallmark of good writing or art--for me--is that it makes me want to think, think, and think in new ways. It offers me a new way of thinking and forces me to reconcile them with my own ways of thinking. Good writing (and art) widens and deepens my perspective.

Betty, this post is an example of good writing. I saw the bird and the cat and especially the feathers. And this post made me think about how often we use the physical (birds/feathers) to represent the abstract (hope)--this makes sense, because we can't really process the abstract except for in terms of the concrete. BUT sometimes--and here's my favorite connection that I made as a result of your post, Betty--sometimes we mistake the concrete for the abstract: we see the physical bird get killed and we think--because that matches our experience--that hope is dead. But hope is the feathered thing "that perches in the soul."

So, thank you, Betty for making me think. And thank you for the strong images.

Olive Kite said...
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