After Great Pain 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 –


The poem sums up the way pain is experienced, realized and sought to be understood. The first two lines refer to a state of mind which follows the experience of pain. The simile of Tombs, vindicates the death like intensity of pain which as after thought was almost impossible to survive and yet it was borne. The reference to ‘He’ in the third line is the mysterious presence in many of Dickinson’s poems. Is the reference to God given strength – God whose presence is an eternal reality, or is it a reference to one of the mentors about whom you read earlier?

The second stanza describes the behaviour or the movements of the body after the experience of pain. The simile of stone highlights the acceptance of pain and after having understood it the ability of the protagonist to feel gratified. “A Quartz contentment…” brings out the quality of that particular experience.

The third stanza carries forward the experience of pain through another simile, that of “Freezing persons”. But first let us try to understand the “Hour of Lead” Pain is conveyed through the metaphorical image which connects to a state of numbness. The use of dash suggests this appropriately. Recollection of pain as lead but recollected in the same way that Freezing persons recall their experience of imminent death through changing sensations immobility, “chill” the trance “stupor” and then a surrender to the condition, “then the letting go”.

The protagonist uses various devices to express the dual, physical and mental or rather ‘soul’ experience of a state of pain. The poem needs to be read not only through the words but also through the dashes which are an essential part of the meaning constructed through the text.

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