After great pain, a formal feeling comes –

After great pain, a formal feeling comes – Summary

As with many of Emily Dickinson’s poems, the lyric voice in “After great pain” begins by placing the moment of the poem as after some profound, or at least highly affecting, experience—in this case, an ambiguous “great pain.” The first line, though it has the form of a (generalized) assertion, also makes clear that this poem is being spoken from what Dickinson calls “a formal feeling.”

It’s a somber state, static—a kind of death (“The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs —”), referred to variously as the “Hour of Lead” and “A Quartz contentment, like a stone —.” It’s also an occasion that prompts deep introspection, raising doubts about the most fundamental aspects of the speaker’s being, such as identity (“The stiff Heart questions was it He, that bore”) as well as her sense of her position in time (“And Yesterday, or Centuries before?”).

Overall, the poem is best described as an allegory for the speaker’s experience of a seriously disruptive or traumatic experience, and an exploration of its psychological aftermath. By engaging in this exploration, the speaker also illuminates the possibilities for knowledge and new ways of thinking and being such dislocation opens up, and, ultimately, attempts to forge meaning from it.