After Great Pain, A Formal Feeling Comes: Summary and Analysis

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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.
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 ?
After great pain, a formal feeling comes

Introduction:

      'After great pain, a formal feeling comes' is Dickinson's most popular poem and one of her greatest poems. It explores the strange condition in which mind finds itself after it has experienced the shock of great pain. Dickinson captures a state in which the person seems to be dead but is not actually dead. The first describes the mental experience and then a physical analogy of the mental condition.

Summary

Stanza I

      The speaker analyses the nature of pain which he is experiencing at that point of time in his life. Surely, the pain is not physical but mental which leaves the mind numb. The nerves seem have stopped working for the time being, A death-like silence is present in the mind. The 'formal feeling' shows how the speaker is forced to withdraw from the world. Literally, a funeral is taking place in his mind, with the nerves acting both as mourners and a tombstone. He seems to have lost the sense of time. The heart feels lifeless and isolated from itself. He is not sure whether the crushing blow came recently or centuries earlier. Time appears dissolved which shows that there is no end to his sufferings. The heart has ceased to know whether or not it was the sufferer or how long the pain lasted.

Stanza II

      In the second stanza, the speaker is quite alive and desirous of relief to move about. He moves in a circle out of frustration and uncertain destination: All this mental confusion is of a purely mechanical nature. Her path, and her feet as well, are lifeless and unfeeling as wood. They are unaware what lies beneath and around them. Almost from its start, the poem has been dramatizing a state of emotional shock that serves as a shield against pain. The expression 'quartz contentment' shows the feeling of satisfaction without extremes of pleasure or of pain. It is lifeless like a stone.

Stanza III

      Shows that the experience of feeling numb, being unable to take in what's become too much, not knowing, if it at this moment your hold on things is about to slide away completely - consenting to, inhabiting, this experience of bodily limits now. 'The hour of lead' metaphorically conveys the sense of something heavy, dull and immovable. It will remain the most horrifying unforgettable experience of man's life. No body will outlive to describe this experience to others. This experience of pain looks likea death by freezing. There is the chill, followed by the stupor as the body turns numb, and the final stage in which the body abandons fighting against cold, and relaxes and passes away. This is the gradual process of experiencing pain, by a complete death of senses and the end of all hope and activity.

Interpretation and Critically Analysis

Feeling Versus non - Feeling:

      Lack of feeling is always fearful to Dickinson. She seeks and defines the opposite : feeling, sensation, perception-life. Her poems about pain show her distinguishing not only between also kinds of feeling but also kinds of non-feeling. A formal feeling comes after great pain. Lack of feeling is a symbolic form of death, which brings the ultimate end of feeling.

Use of Speaker:

      The poem is told in the third person, but seems very personal. The speaker observes her suffering protagonist from a distance and employs symbols to intensity the psychic splitting through the images of the nerves, heart, and feet.

Nature of Pain:

      The pain must be psychological, for there is no real damage to the body dnd no sign of healing. The trance is a kind of imitation of control and rationality in 'The Feet, mechanical, go round' while 'the stiff Heart' loses any sense of time and sharp memory to question was it He, that bore \ And Yesterday, or Centuries before ? enforces forgetfulness from a pain too frightening to recall and a formality that is actually the stupor of a frozen scream. The repressed thoughts thus retains its original force, making the passage of time, centuries or a day, meaningless. Here numbing repression is automatic. The emotional paralysis lasts, though, it is like dying. Dickinson often transferred the characteristics of death and dying to conditions of emotional arrest. She concentrates her expressive gifts on the sensations of mental extremity themselves, thereby distilling the anguish, the numbness, and the horror. Dickinson possessed unique insight into the human psyche.

Ambiguity:

      The poetess often left out much in this poem that her readers want to know: things like what condition the speaker actually describes, how she got there, and how she emerged. The last line of the poem is full of ambiguities. There is an ambiguity about whether what 'letting go' implies is the ability to feel, which would reverse the 'chill' and 'stupor' that have preceded it, or whether what is oppositely implied by the whole series of nouns are the final stages of the inability to feel that terminate in death.

Loneliness:

      There is no sense of escape from loneliness in this poem. The speaker suffers from psychological pain which snaps his ties with the outside world. It is the mental state. State which precipitates the crisis in his life. The speaker is self-lost and has forgotten the sense of time. A death-like reigns in his mind and kills his desire to relate with others. It is a feeling of lifelessness which maybe compared to a lifeless stone. His will to act is totally paralysed.

Technique:

      The varied line lengths, the frequent heavy pauses within the lines, and the mixture of slant and full rhymes all contribute to the poem's formal slowness. This laboured movement of the lines reinforces the thematic movement of the poem to a final, dull resignation. Dickinson has followed the analogical method for defining the nature of the psychological pain. The nerves are personified in this poem. They convey sensation and feeling from the body to the brain. Even the heart is personified in it. There is also the personification of feet, emblems of action and activity.

Diction and Language:

      Dickinson has made a very suggestive use of metaphors in this poem. They immensely contribute to the total meaning of the poem.

Explanation with Reference to Context:

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 speaker analyses the nature of pain which has made him almost lifeless in his life. Surely, the pain is not physical but mental or psychological which leaves the mind almost numb. It is this mental stress which precipitates the crisis. The nerves seem to have stopped working for the time being. The speaker undergoes a feeling of detached formality, as if it is experienced by someone else. The nerves do not function in a normal manner. They are like buried in tombs which cannot act in any way. The speaker is self-lost and cannot exactly tell whether the pain is of recent origin or of hundred years old. He seems to have lost the very sense of time. He is seen interrogating himself but fails to arrive at any definite conclusion about the origin of this unusual this unusual pain.

The Feet, mechanical, go round-
O Ground, or Air, or Ought-
A wooden way
Regardless grown,
A Quartz contentment, life a stone

      The impact of the mental pain makes the mind dumb and inert. It leads to the loss of the sense of time. It seems as if the life has come to an end. The speaker is cut off from the main stream of life. A death-like silence regions in his mind.

      The speaker feels as if he is moving in a circle in a mechanical manner and his life is now being externally controlled. He has lost the will to act in any way. He is not aware whether he is passing through air or earth or something else. A total indifference is shown to important physical stimuli. The expression quartz contentment conveys the feeling of satisfaction without the extreme sense of pain or happiness. It is a feeling of lifelessness which may be compared to a lifeless stone.

This is the Hour of Lead
Remembered, if out lived,
As freezing person, recollect the Snow
First-Chil-then Stupor-then the letting go-

      The speaker is in a state of utter confusion and he cannot act in an independent manner. His will to act is totally paralysed. The intensity of mental shock has made him absolutely dumb. The speaker looks like an inanimate stone, having no sign of possible, life.

The concluding stanza shows that life has come to a standstill for the pain-hit speaker. It is a time of dull, heavy endurance, with no pain but with no vital sensation either. This experience can be remembered it the person manages to survive its pain. This is only a remote possibility because the pain is going to end in destruction. This experience of pain looks like a death by freezing. There is the chill, followed by the stupor as the body becomes numb, and the final stage in which the body gives up fighting against cold, and relaxes, and dies. This marks the death of senses, and the end of all hope and activity in life.

Annotations:

      'Pain' - refers to psychological rather than physical. 'Formal feeling' - feeling of withdrawal from the world. She is made to quit this world. 'Nerves sit ceremonious like Tombs' - nerves act as mourners and as a tombstone. 'He' - refers to Christ heart. 'Stiff Heart' - heart which has lost the sense of time. It seems to have lost Sense of sufferings. Moreover, it feels dead and isolated from itself. 'Go round' - move aimlessly in a circle. 'Mechanical' - unfeeling. 'Contentment' - satisfaction. 'Quarts contentment' - a brilliant metaphor, combining heaviness, density, and earthiness with the idea of contentment, which is usually thought to be mellow a sott. 'The hour of lead' - another brilliant metaphor, in which time, scene, and body fuse into something heavy, dull, immovable. 'Freezing person' - dying person 'Stupor' - state of unconsciousness. 'Chill' - extreme cold.

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