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Emily Dickinson is an American poetess that has a rather isolated life deprived of friends and normal human communication. Instead, she was more likely to sit at home in the atmosphere of creative silence. Therefore, Dickinson’s pessimistic and monotonous life was reflected in her poetry where such topics as death and immorality were revealed; her works also manifest the feministic views and orthodox philosophy thus bringing the message of despair and frustration. In particular, in Dickinson’s After great pain, a formal feeling comes (Meyer 752) vividly highlights the topic of death and suffering. Through this poem, one could perceive the vivid emotions and incessant sufferings experienced by the narrator.
The poem is Dickinson’s hardest attempt to render the speaker’s extreme desire to overcome the grief and to achieve emotional equilibrium. The narrator, hence, takes a burden of the moral trauma and in-depth sorrow; the poem expresses his/her struggle for comfort and his endless rescue from a chain of horrible events. The speaker’s inner soul is torn apart by the struggle of emotion and reason. The depiction of an emotional paralysis of the speaker is achieved through a bright imagination of stone, wood, and snow in order to suppress the emerging pain and to comfort his restless soul. These inanimate objects characterize the lifelessness of his emotions, which enhance the effect of numbness and great pain, and overwhelming shock. The speaker’s attempts are also focused on the defense of his mental state already destroyed by the suffering.
To enhance the speaker’s intention to mortify his emotional part her tries to compare humans with mechanized creatures: “The Feet, mechanical, go ground- A Wooden way of Ground, or Air, or Ought –regardless grown..” (Meyer 752). Nevertheless, by means of capitalization of such words as “Feet”, “Nerves”, “Heart,” and “Air”, the speaker emphasizes the profoundness of grief and the impossibility to overcome it, despite his enormous efforts to forget the pain and to live further.
Through this poem, the speaker intends to show other people that stiffness is one of the ways to trespass pain followed by suffering; it is an implicit demonstration of how the grief may suppress. This work also reflects the experience of the speaker and the stage he/she has to overcome thus showing the inevitability of the given situation, which is illustrated by the last line of the poem: “First – Chill – then Stupor – then the letting go” (Meyer 752). By this line, the narrator shows that the only decision is humility and submission (Grabher et al. 148).
The narrators’ comparative descriptive words impose a funeral feel where the emotions and pain are “formal”, the nerves are identified with “Tombs”, and the heart is “stiff” (Meyer 752). By this, the speaker highlights his frustrated states thus recalling to people as to entire humanity, and its separate bodily parts that are objectified. Regarding this, the poem is a desperate attempt to communicate to those people who experience a horrible feeling, but evidently, this is not a physical suffering but a great sorrow that leaves the soul empty. The line “The Nerves sit ceremoniously like Tombs” (Meyer 752) could be compared with people sitting at the funeral ceremony so that the word “tombs” is related to a person who experienced great pain. The tomb here also symbolizes death as the logical and “formal” outcome (Beaty and Matchett 28). The line “as freezing persons recollect the snow” (Meyer 752) accurately emphasizes the event, where people are frustrated and disappointed to an extent that they are incapable to make a single movement.
Structure of the Poem
On analyzing the structure of the poem and the implicit information it bears, it emphasizes the duality of the narrator’s intentions. Hence, in the line “quartz contentment, like a stone” (Meyer 752) the narrator, on the one hand, expresses the irony of emotions attached to a stone and, on the other hand, he/she tries to highlight the loss of the feelings as the result of the event occurred. Though this line has different implications, it still has the same outcome: the speaker is destroyed by mental pain leading to stillness. Being in the state of numbness, time loses its value so the speaker could not realize whether this numbness appeared “yesterday – or centuries before” (Meyer 752).
A closer consideration deserves structure, as it also serves as the measure of sorrow. Judging upon the length of the line, the speakers feel the most mortified at the beginning of the verse. Gradually, the lines are getting shorter so that it is clear that the narrator achieves the final stage of converting into a numb and lifeless creature. Still, the last two lines are as long as the first ones thus showing the framed circuit where pain returns repeatedly.
In conclusion, it should be stressed that the poem is tightly connected with the solitary life of the poetess whose pessimistic views influence the content of the poetry full of grief and darkness. Therefore, the essence of her life is partially described in the particular work that reveals the hard conditions of her existence.
Beaty, Jerome and Matchett, William H. Poetry from statement to meaning. UK: Oxford University Press, 1965.
Grabher, Gudrun, Hagenbuchle Roland, Miller Cristanne. Emily Dickinson Handbook. US: Univ of Massachusetts Press, 1998.
Meyer, Michael. The Compact Belfort Introduction to Literature: Reading, Thinking, Writing. US: Belfort/ St. Martin’s, p. 752.