Hope is a subtle Glutton —
He feeds upon the Fair —
And yet — inspected closely
What Abstinence is there —

His is the Halcyon Table —
That never seats but One —
And whatsoever is consumed
The same amount remain —

Analysis, meaning and summary of Emily Dickinson's poem Hope is a subtle Glutton —


  1. abdu says:

    Now why does Hope that is so supportive and so valuable, a Glutton? It is not just being accused of greedily consuming but is also marked guilty of picking out the fair to feed on! It is targeting the honest, the patient and the balanced. Why does it not feed on the cunning, the corrupt, the ruthlessly wolfish, because there is no place for Hope among them. The corrupt does not entertain hope. The ruthless does not let Hope come in between him and his cruelty .

    While Hope does help, the imprisoned, oppressed and the patient. It takes a lot of mental laborious exertion to find solace in Hope. It requires great amount of patience and one may travail in pain to gain Hope. That is why the poet uses the term “FEEDS” on the fair. It takes courage to find Hope and allow Hope to take rest in you. Nevertheless look closely, Hope will always restrain itself from completely devouring you. Hope will not leave you lost and devoured. Hope will never consume its host to complete destruction. Hope will hold back and practice abstinence.

    Hope will hold back and it will allow you to share the food spread with it. And the large meal that is laid out on the table is comprised of your happy and peaceful memories from the past. Poet is pointing the one who is in search of hope to tap into the beautiful and happy past that God gifted him. Know that if God gave you a beautiful beginning (past), He will surely give you a beautiful and happy future (be hopeful). That is where hope lies. And no matter how much you look back and thank God you will never thank God enough (the blessings are uncountable) hence the poet says, “And whatsoever is consumed…The same amount remains”

  2. Michael Schumacher says:

    Correction: “the same amounts remain.” The rhythms of the poem are difficult and awkward. The many alliterations – subtle glutton; the s’s, p’s, h’s. “And whatsover is consumed” has the extra syllable (the ambiguity of Halcyon (2 or 3 syllables? – it’s the key word of the poem, IMO: hope’s connection to an imagined , idyllic past).
    This is not just technical; it is a demonstration of Dickinson’s mastery of the language. These devices communicate on deeper levels than the words alone.

  3. Karen says:

    I believe she means that Hope can be both a wonderful light in the darkness, “A thing with feathers” as she says in her other poem, but it changes nothing. To hope for something is not to have that thing. To those imprisoned or enslaved hope can allow them to live through the darkest hour, but it does not change the fact that they are still imprisoned. Hope can allow people to abstain from having the thing they want, from getting the object of their desire, from changing their circumstances. A person can still have hope things will change without doing anything to to make it happen, thus feeding upon itself.

    • American Poems says:

      Thank you for sharing your insight Karen.

      This particular poem does feel dark to me. She focuses on hope, or Hope, as it were, anthropomorphizing the emotion and imbuing it with sentiments usually not associated with hope.

      Hope, taken by itself, without forward motion from the one who feels hope, will lead nowhere.

  4. anna petersen says:

    it is hard for me to agree with this poem! hope is there for everyone and it doesnt leave us in our darkest hour! its a shoulder to lean on! a close soul grabbing friend! 🙂

  5. George Soscia says:

    It would seem that two are at the table, viz., Hope and the fair person.

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