After great pain
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 –
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 –
Emily Dickinson (1830 – 1886)
This poem was written in 1862 and in the life of ED what great pain she experienced is not known. However, the generic nature allows the reader to make personal association based on life experience.
S1 – the poetic structure of the opening first line stresses great pain …
After / great pain, / a for / mal feel / ing comes – (using trochee – long short stress and spondee long long) … iambic pentameter is used elsewhere.
The nerves are equated to tombs in that sensitivity of body becomes a dead holding place. A numbing effect takes place. The heart, the central piece of the body, becomes stiff equating to why, why is such pain happening. And then there is the religious connotation on the ‘He’ perhaps relating to Jesus who was the answer to all sin both past and present in the act of atonement on the cross. An immeasurable pain unknown.
S2 – This is the aftermath of a painful event, whatever the nature of that pain. Life carries on but in a numb sort of way as everything turns to cardboard. But something happens from this pain and something of value internalises in the person like the forming of quartz -a common hard, crystalline mineral. And there is a contentment in this hardening of life. A contentment after coming to terms with what has happened.
S3 – This is the way of life defined in the hour of lead … by the example of a person experiencing snow then the chill and the subconscious stupor as all sensitivity is lost in the letting go. This continue process is shown poetically by the discrete break up of the words and the use of the hyphen in that last line – First – Chill – then stupor – then the letting go –. But does that ever happen?
ED defines the nature of life as we experience a succession of falling pain. But there is never total closure for we carry the scars despite moving on and hopefully growing as a person. And whether quartz can become diamond is another matter; especially if forgiveness is involved.