After Great Pain, a Formal Feeling Comes

After Great Pain, a Formal Feeling Comes

by Emily Dickinson

After great pain, a formal feeling comes –
The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs –
The stiff Heart questions ‘was it He, that bore,’
And ‘Yesterday, or Centuries before’?

The Feet, mechanical, go round –
A Wooden way
Of Ground, or Air, or Ought –
Regardless grown,
A Quartz contentment, like a stone –

This is the Hour of Lead –
Remembered, if outlived,
As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow –
First – Chill – then Stupor – then the letting go –

Summary of After Great Pain, a Formal Feeling Comes

  • Popularity of “After Great Pain, a Formal Feeling Comes”: Emily Dickinson, a great American female poet, wrote ‘After Great Pain, a Formal Feeling Comes’. It is one of the best and famous poems about pain. It was first published in 1890. The poem speaks about the development of emotional and psychological changes after facing a traumatic situation. It also illustrates how, as humans, we face the challenges and move on in life. Its popularity, however, lies in that it deals with the phenomenon of acceptance coupled with resignation.
  • “After Great Pain, a Formal Feeling Comes” As a Representative of Human Nature: This poem is about the adaptive nature of human beings. The speaker reflects how we accept everything in life and behave as ordinary beings. The poem begins when the speaker says that when something terrible happens to us, we go numb, and our heart stops functioning normally. A strange hollowness inhabits our mind and body, and we start to dig out that something has occurred recently, or a century ago.
    Although we catch the regular pace of life, yet that strange feeling steals the real joy of life, leaving us in a state of despair. We try our level best to be strong and unshakeable, but all goes in vain. As humans, we pass through the stages of grief. In the beginning, the hard blow of tragedy gets on our nerves, and everything around us seems frozen in time. Later, with the time that incident becomes a memory.
  • Major Themes in “After Great Pain, a Formal Feeling Comes”: Human nature, acceptance and sorrows are the major themes in this poem. This simple poem illustrates the stages of grief and how, as a human being, we defeat these obstacles. First, the tragic blow hits us hard and leaves us lifeless. Slowly, we regain our senses and learn to go through the motions of life. We try to get back to normality but inside, we feel so empty and dead due to the tragedy that has happened. However, once we accept the reality and start living a healthy life, that incident turns into a memory and never hunts us anymore.

Analysis of Literary Devices Used in “After Great Pain, a Formal Feeling Comes”

Literary devices are crucial elements of a literary text. They bring richness to the text and help the readers understand meanings. Emily Dickenson has also made this poem superb by using figurative language. Here is the analysis of some literary devices used in this poem.

  1. Assonance: Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in the same line. For example, the sound of /i/ in “Remembered, if outlived” and the sound of /ai/ in “After great pain, a formal feeling comes”.
  2. Alliteration: Alliteration is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line in quick succession. For example, the sound of /f/ in “After great pain, a formal feeling comes” and the sound of /th/ “First – Chill – then Stupor – then the letting go”.
  3. Consonance: Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line such as the sound of /d/ in “Remembered, if outlived”.
  4. Enjambment: It is defined as a thought in verse that does not come to an end at a line break; instead, it rolls over to the next line. For example,

“The Feet, mechanical, go round –
A Wooden way
Of Ground, or Air, or Ought –
Regardless grown.”

  1. Imagery: Imagery is used to make readers perceive things involving their five senses. For example, “The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs”, “As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow” and “A Quartz contentment, like a stone.”
  2. Personification: Personification is to give human qualities to non-human things. For example, heart is personified in the first stanza of the poem in “The stiff Heart questions ‘was it He, that bore.”
  3. Rhetorical Question: Rhetorical question is a question that is not asked to receive an answer; it is just posed to make the point clear. For example, “And ‘Yesterday, or Centuries before’?”
  4. Simile: It is a figure of speech used to compare something with something else. Emily has used this device at several places in the poem such as; “A Quartz contentment, like a stone”, “The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs” and “As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow.”

Analysis of Poetic Devices Used in “After Great Pain, a Formal Feeling Comes”

Poetic and literary devices are the same, but a few are used only in poetry. Here is the analysis of some of the poetic devices used in this poem.

  1. End Rhyme: End rhyme is used to make the stanza melodious. For example, “bore/before”, “snow/grow” and “gone/stone.”
  2. Quatrain: A quatrain is a four-lined stanza borrowed from Persian poetry. Here, the first and third stanzas are quatrain.
  3. Stanza: A stanza is a poetic form of some lines. There are three stanzas in this poem. Two quatrains and one quintain.

Quotes to be Used

The lines stated below are useful for a speech delivered on the topic of human consciousness.

This is the Hour of Lead –
Remembered, if outlived,
As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow –
First – Chill – then Stupor – then the letting go.”