After great pain, a formal feeling comes –

After great pain, a formal feeling comes – Literary Elements

Speaker or Narrator, and Point of View

The poem is written in what seems to be a first-person voice, though the word "I" never appears in the text

Form and Meter

Though it doesn't fall into any consistent meter or traditional poetic form, "After great pain" draws on the form of Christian hymns, and the last two lines of each verse paragraph are rhymes or off-rhymes

Metaphors and Similes

Dickinson's short poem is packed with metaphorical language, and in fact appears to be an entirely metaphorical exploration of the speaker's experience of her so-called "formal feeling." The poet uses both metaphors such as "This is the Hour of Lead" and similes, sometimes in the same line, such as "A Quartz contentment, like a stone —"

Alliteration and Assonance

Heavy usage of sonic patterns such as alliteration and assonance are a crucial component of this poem's overall feeling of density. In the very first line, Dickinson employs both assonance, as in the "a" sounds of "After great pain" and alliteration ("formal feeling"). Other examples: the hard alliterative "c" sounds of "Quartz contentment" and the assonance of the varied "o" sounds in the lines "The Feet, mechanical, go round — / Of Ground, or Air, or Ought — A Wooden way / Regardless grown..."


Dickinson employs irony by beginning the poem with reference to a "great pain"—thus setting up the expectation that the poem will explore that pain—and then proceeding never to mention it directly again.


Lyric poetry, though some see Dickinson as working in a post-lyric or post-romantic tradition that marks the beginning of a transition to literary modernism.


If there can be said to be a setting, it is the psyche of the speaker


Abstract, dense, obscure, even gnomic, and somewhat ominous.

Protagonist and Antagonist

Major Conflict

The speaker's attempt to re-organize, or re-constitute, her psyche in the wake of a highly disruptive or traumatic event


Insofar as there is one, the final line "After great pain" can be said to be its "climax," as the rest of the poem seems to culminate, or find a form of release, in the reference to "the letting go."



The second half of the first line, "a formal feeling comes" arrives as a sort of understatement, strangely ambiguous and neutral after the drama implicit in making reference to a "great pain."


Metonymy and Synecdoche

Dickinson plays with synecdoche—a form of speech in which a part of something is used to refer to the whole—by making reference to disembodied "Nerves," "Heart," and "Feet." Though our instinct is to understand these as synecdoches that in fact refer to the actions of a person, Dickinson here uses this device to call that presumed cohesion into question, instead conveying the fragmentation of the speaker's sense of self.


As with her use of synecdoche, Dickinson creatively uses the technique of "personification" of what we understand as "parts" of a person to, ultimately, suggest a kind of "de-personification" of the speaker