Literature Study GuidesPoems Of Emily Dickinson SelectedAfter Great Pain A Formal Feeling Comes Summary

Poems of Emily Dickinson (Selected) | Study Guide

Emily Dickinson

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After great pain, a formal feeling comes—

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Emily Dickinson's poem "After great pain, a formal feeling comes—."

Poems of Emily Dickinson (Selected) | After great pain, a formal feeling comes-- | Summary

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Summary

In this three-stanza poem the meter is irregular and top-heavy. Instead of the usual alternating lines of four iambic feet and three iambic feet, the first four lines consist of pentameter (five feet, or 10 syllables). And the second stanza is irregular: the first line has eight syllables, the second has six, the third has four, the fourth has three, and the fifth—unusual for a Dickinson poem—has eight.

The poem describes what happens after one experiences a great pain or loss. Whether it is physical or emotional is unclear. The nerves are still, the heart wonders what has just happened, the feet continue to walk mechanically unaware of what they're treading on. The body becomes heavy and leaden. The whole experience, if one survives it, is remembered in stages, the way freezing people remember the snow: "First—Chill—then Stupor—then the letting go—" of the feeling.

Analysis

This poem is a clear account of the conscious process of suffering, in which Dickinson minutely describes the stages one goes through after feeling great pain. The speaker describes the effects on various parts of the body—the nerves, the heart, the feet. Everything about the sufferer is slowed down, stunned. The poem is filled with words denoting stiffness and weight: Tombs, stiff, mechanical, Wooden, Quartz, stone, Lead, Freezing.

At first, the sufferer seems stunned and stupefied. The heart isn't sure what has happened to it or when it happened. The feet continue mechanically, suggesting one goes through the motions of existence without thinking about it. The final stanza, in which the speaker compares the "Hour of Lead" to freezing in the snow, is reminiscent of the description of losing consciousness, which occurs in stages, as in "I felt a Funeral, in my Brain." The third stanza seems to slow down as it continues, perhaps in preparation for the first line of the next stanza, "This is the Hour of Lead—" which sums up all that has gone before.

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