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Emily Dickinson: After great pain, a formal feeling comes –

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 –

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 –



“After Great Pain, a Formal Feeling Comes” is a unique poem that blends personal feelings with what can be considered objectively verifiable. A major poet like Emily Dickinson can merge subjective feelings with objectively felt perceptions. Being a reserved person, who had few or no close relationships with other individuals, Dickinson led the life of a thinker and poet whose mind can, as Wordsworth would say, “See into the life of things”. Her existence depended on a life of the mind and the imagination rather than on any human relationships of a significant nature.

She did, however, feel just as much if not more pain as anyone else and this is the subject of her poem. She does not talk about the pain she has felt in her life; instead she talks about what pain can do to the one experiencing it. She describes the benumbing effect of pain on people in this poem.

The language of poetry should not be the language of statement; rather it should merely say things at the level of suggestion. This is the chief attainment of Dickinson in this poem. She merely suggests and her suggestions emerge out of the unique kind of imagery she uses. The images of this poem follow one stanza after the other in continuation of the one statement she makes in the very first line of the poem: “After great pain a formal feeling comes.”

The imagery of the poem relates to death rather than describing death itself. Just as death is a result of some kind of intense pain, similarly numbness, stiffness, woodenness, growing regardless, stony, lead-like, frozenness, are all related aspects of one who has stopped leading life in all its zest; one who has stopped living fully. Only Christ, who is referred to in the first stanza, can remain zestful after experiencing the worst kind of pain; for the rest of humanity, pain will lead to giving up the fun and the gusto of life. For a person stung by an emotional loss, there will be little reason to be passionate about things or enthusiastic about events that cheer up others. Such a person will do things mechanically, Dickinson seems to suggest, living in the hour of lead rather than in the throes of joy and positive activity.

Dickinson’s use of dashes, particularly at the end of lines, suggests that she does not round off her sentences or statements but instead lets them flow along like the consciousness of one lost in deep thought. This probably helps the imagination to take its lead into further possibilities.

What intrigues me about this poem is the fact that it contains a trans-gender dimension. The poem could well have been written by a man. Some women writers of the Nineteenth Century tried to wipe out their feminine identities. George Eliot was another such author. Today’s women poets and authors have acquired greater freedom and do not hesitate expressing themselves as women.

Lakshmi Raj Sharma

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  1. Praveen kumar Praveen kumar

    Wonderful poem
    Thanks sir for giving description.

    • We co’dvule done with that insight early on.

  2. Praveen Kumar Praveen Kumar

    Awesome poem
    Thanks sir for giving description.

  3. vishal singh vishal singh

    It means alot to us,thank you sir

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