After great pain, a formal feeling comes

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 —
Of Ground, or Air, or Ought —
A Wooden way
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 —

Analysis, meaning and summary of Emily Dickinson's poem After great pain, a formal feeling comes


  1. frumpo says:

    What great pain (physical or emotional) feels like over time.

  2. brittany aka star says:

    can yall tell me more about her!!!!!!

  3. Alvaro says:

    The day my father died this poem came to my mind. Sure it can be about many kinds of “pain”. However, the death of a beloved calls stronger for it.

  4. fanjatiana says:

    i think this poem is about death

  5. ellen says:

    While I agree this poem is indeed about death, I don’t believe that it is from the standpoint of those who have lost a loved one, but rather of the apparent pronouns Emily creates out of words that are regularly nouns- “Heart”, “Nerves”, “Air” etcetera. If you read it like these objects and feelings are beings themselves, your outlook on the poem shifts.

  6. Anna says:

    by limiting this poem to just “death”, we are eliminating all the other possible reasons for the “pain”.

  7. janet morcoso says:

    i think this poem is about the pain that has been suffered after a broke up with someone you truly love.she is now on the process of letting go.

  8. Marcia Thomas says:

    This has many different meanings for me,death can be more than physical death as others have commented.Dealing with a serious physical condition it reminds me of first knowledge of time limits on life.Then it also brings the pain of other loss,losing someone not in body but maybe in soul. Watching as the real person dissappears and becomes a stranger. I hope this is understood very intense and difficult to place in words.

  9. bill says:

    Emily Dickinson’s poem After a Great Pain is about how to deal with the emotional pain of someone’s death. During her life, Dickinson saw many of her friends die and had to go through the pain of losing people that she loved. In this poem, Dickinson, using imagery, metaphors and diction, explain the “great pain” she felt and how to get through it.
    One of the things that Dickinson notice about people is that even though they have gone through that pain, they still go through their daily lives as if nothings ever happened. That even though we feel great pain and suffering, we do not show any signs of affecting our lives. Dickinson says “The Feet, mechanical, go round –” to explain what she and other has done, that like machines we will keep on going and going. They will question G-d, life and “The stiff Heart questions was it He, that bore”. They will keep on asking questions of why this happened to them.
    Dickinson knows that life can be a “wooden way regardless grown”. In other words life is full of obstacles and great emotional pain. Looking closely at the diction one even hears the “groan” of her pain in the word grown. However sad this experience is people will bottle up this feeling inside of them. The people will become “A Quartz contentment like stone—“, they don’t want anybody to tell them that it will be alright. Although this is the “Hour of Lead”, one of our hardest times on our lives, people want to be alone. She knows that great emotional pain is not for the weak and that it will be hard to survive it and some will not make it. For those that survived she says they will become like “As Freezing persons recollect the Snow—First—Chill—then Stupor—then the letting go”. She explains using this sentence that in order to survive such a great emotional pain that part of you will die.

  10. JehJar says:

    I think this poem is about dying. First, after ‘great pain, a formal feeling comes’ means that nothing is felt after the endured pain. Then ‘The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs’ and echoes lifelessness. This is comparable to the last stanza when ‘As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow– First–Chill(pain)–then Stupor(unconsciousness)–then letting go(death)–‘

  11. Dustin Martens says:

    Dickinson is a master of brevity. Just look at the comments on it, there is scarcely one shorter than the actual poem. This reminds me of Sonnet 73 in the way it lays down the last line. The “Chill” is the first paragraph, The “Stupor” of the mechanical feet and the rock like “Quartz contentment of “the letting go”

    When I try to Briefly describe Dickinson it is usually in three letters: Wow. That shows mt tact compared to hers.

  12. emily young says:

    i feel she is an inspirational poet who deserves to be reconigsed for her great works

  13. HAli says:

    I think this poem is about a shooting of some kind. The numbness you feel after being shot. The mechanical feet go round sounds and what I picture is an armys feet all going at the same time, looking mechanical. I think the hour of lead is symbolizeing when the bullet struck.

  14. JAY says:

    i agree with what everyone has said about this poem. it haas to do with her-self or a person that has just went through a trouble lost. The emotional scaring/pain that the person is goin through is causeing so much agony to that the person, that they begin to lose all feeling and is left with nothing but a lost and transfixed mental state. the one thing that i do not understand is what the significanc of the hour lead has to do with anything. if anyone can fill me in on that, it would be most appreciated.

  15. Joanna Merrell says:

    I think Emily Dickinson depicts a few aspects of the grieiving process. When grieving, one goes through a phase of numbness. This could also be seen as denial. Your actions are so mechanical. In the immediate days follwing a death of a loved one, you seem the strongest in order to help you get through the funeral. You plan the music, order flowers, write the obituary. After the funeral, you come to the point of “snapping out of it” or “letting go” and having to acutally deal with your pain. This is when the difficult grieiving process really begins.

  16. Maya says:

    I think Emily’s insight about pain rings equally true for a great physical pain, which can be quite traumatizing to the psyche. While in the recovery room after a very long, rough childbirth experience, I heard the nurses comment to each other with concern, that I seemed too quiet and unresponsive. I felt just exactly like what Emily describes in this poem.

  17. Rennie Helder says:

    We all know that Dickinson grappled with depression and to me, the last line is a mild reference to Death or (a death) itself; continuing to live as if it’s an out-of-body experience. “The Feet, mechanical, go round”; as if there’s no Purpose to living one’s Life or steps that we take are just a “formality” — in a Zombie (tomb) like state (going through the “motions”) because it’s so frightening to actually end one’s own life; hence she goes on living with this “formal” feeling as in — NO feeling, whatsoever.

  18. Bavali says:

    Such a great poet and her use of image is so contemporary, although written in the middle 1800s. Dickinson describes the physical/emotional states of grief or other deep emotion. It is the extremity of such emotional states and the searing honesty and clarity of description which gives power to this writing.
    The line, ‘After great pain, a formal feeling comes – the nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs – ‘, lyrically tells of the held in retraction after an outpouring of pain. This is sustained by words and phrases such as, ‘stiff Heart’, ‘mechanical’, ‘Wooden way’, ‘like a stone’. This state is then followed with the inevitable ‘freezing’ that comes with depression, a shutting down, described as ‘A Quartz contentment, like a stone’. I saw ‘contentment’ as the welcome numbness after searing pain. This is furthered with ‘Chill’, ‘Stupor’, ‘then the letting go’, which I saw as resignation and a sense of defeat, the emotional cut-off of depression.

  19. jean dalloway says:

    This has been a favorite poem of mine when I am feeling distressed by past traumas invading my life again. It rings so true to what I experience, time and again. After the pain, I attempt to minimize it, catalog it, “…then the letting go.”

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