Dickinson’s After Great Pain a Formal Feeling Comes Summary and Analysis

Dickinson's After Great Pain a Formal Feeling Comes Summary and Analysis

After Great Pain a Formal Feeling Comes Summary

After some great sorrow or mental pain the mind is numbed. The nerves sit ceremonious like tombs over the dead, that is, all faculties and natural sensibilities of humans die after a feeling of pain. The heart gets stiff, nerves become silent and feet mechanical, a living organism is frozen in eternal numbness. Great pain does not bring disorder or hysteria, only a carefully controlled, formal sensation that inspires awe.

The three stanzas of the poem faintly shadow forth three stages of familiar ceremony: the formal service, the tread of pall-bearers, and the final lowering into a grave. Here the soul’s numbed response after an enervating shock exemplifies a fundamental law: that pain is an unavoidable aspect of human existence. The poem contains images of ceremony and crystallization, and acute psychological observations present the situation. The stages of pain pass from a funeral atmosphere concentrating on image of ceremony and tombs in stanza one, to the mechanical wooden world of stanza two (where “Quartz contentment” is linked with tombs), and finally to frozen death of stanza three, where leaden images climax in snow’s blank desolation.

The second stanza describes the feeling of pain by picturing the body as a mechanical object, a toy puppet, aimlessly dangling on its strings in a terrible parody of life’s vitality. A “Quartz contentment” describes the body’s state, suggesting quartz’s hard, glossy finish as well as its smooth tactile quality that is unpleasantly cold. Yet is this a contentment, since this suspended state signifies the superior rank to which great pain has elevated the soul.

The final stanza completes the crystallization process. The base, dull colour of lead prepares for the image of a person slowly freezing to death in the snow. The final line summarizes the whole poem as this pain progresses from the first sudden chill which retards movement and control to the numbness of wooden motion, until eventually the letting go of death and total inactivity occur. This, then, is the way one experiences pain, by a complete de sense and freezing of all hope and activity. Paradoxically concludes that the real effect of pain is its absence numbness that only a severe wound could physically produce.

The first stanza is held rigid by the ceremonious formality of the chamber of death when, after the great pain of its passing the corpse lies tranquil and composed, surrounded by mourners, hushed in awe so silent that time seems to have gone off into eternity, “yesterday or Centuries before.” The nerves are situated round about the body or the “stiff-Heart” like mourners about the bed of death. These nerves for example, are not neighbours lamenting with their silent presence the death of a friend. They are sensation itself, but here they are dead as ceremonious and lifeless as tombs. Consequently, the formal feeling that comes after great pain is, ironically no feeling at all, only benumbed rigidness.

In the second stanza the formal rites of the dead are replaced by a different sort of action ceremoniously performed in a trance, an extension not of the previous metaphor, but of the paradox which informed it. In the third stanza, benumbed, aimless movements through a world of waste, the motions of the living dead are similar to the trance-like, enchanted steps of persons freezing in a blank and silent world of muffling snow.

To conclude, Dickinson wants to say through this poem that a feeling of contentment comes after a feeling of pain.

After Great Pain a Formal Feeling Comes Analysis  

After Great Pain a Formal Feeling Comes is not one that deals with death, but the intensity of grief that has been described in this poem has an unmistakable resemblance with the awareness of impending death, the death that is going to cause untold suffering to the members of the bereaved family. In this poem the condition of the human heart suffering from intense grief has been described in a language that charged with deep feeling and is rich in images. When an extraordinary catastrophe has overwhelmed an individual, his soul lies in a trance, as it were, and his memory seems to have been astrophied altogether so that he remembers nothing about the daily round of existence.

“The sufferer moves mechanically as one a somnambulism and goes through the daily routine of life living them.”

In the concluding lines of the poem, the experience of deep grief has been compared to death by freezing. Richard Chase has written about the background of ideas of this poem and an understanding of this background is helpful for us to appreciate the poem. “The process of disintegration has its “economy”: “Ruin is formal.” Within this economy, nature still allows room for various forms of human well being and fulfillment various royal “estates such as are achieved by those who receive an ineffable intuitive experience, by the woman who loves, or by the poet who creates though these estates involve great renunciations, are merely temporary, and gain good deal of their value by being preliminary experiences of the final and absolute estate of immortality,

“After great pain a formal feeling comes

The nerves sit ceremonious like tombs,”

Pain enlightens us as to the inexorable law, the form, by which we vile and die; it opens out before us the vista of things as they are; it shows us the meagre economy of our lives, which includes, however, certain “ceremonious” occasions, though these take their character from the final accession to immortality.

After Great Pain a Formal Feeling Comes Imagery

Some of the imagery used in this poem is very bold. The sitting of “the nerves ceremonious like tombs” suggests the deadening of all the faculties and also the sensibility that men are endowed with by Nature. The first line, which expresses the central idea of the poem governs the imagery. The words “formal,” “ceremonious,” “tombs,” “stiff,” “mechanical” and many others in the poem give the suggestion of the stunning effect of grief. The experience of intense suffering has been reinforced by the image of persons frozen to death, who feel the chill, then stupor, then the letting go.

The words like “quartz,” “wooden way” and “hour of lead” in the second stanza serve to emphasize the heaviness of the grief. “The outer form of the poem which maintains the funeral image in its three stages of death, procession and burial is shaped by the inner mood of the poem and use of exact rhyme in the last two lines of each stanza adds to its technical excellence.”

This is one of those poems of Emily Dickinson in which she has employed rather difficult and out of the way words but they are not inappropriate. There is a remarkable force in the lines:

“This is the hour of led

Remembered if out-lived.

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