“After great pain, a formal feeling comes”
Dickinson uses this poem to talk about how someone copes with loss. After something traumatic comes a great expanse of feelings and emotions. This poem talks about great pain and how it completely and totally messes someone up.
Stanza 1: After something traumatic happens we feel numb and the typical proceedings of a funeral go on, leaving us to feel formal. Sitting through the processions, feeling nervous about our emotions once everything sinks in. But for now all we feel is numbness as we try to take everything in.
“After great pain, a formal feeling comes-
The Nerves sit ceremonious like Tombs-“
The numb heart of the person suffering and dealing with the loss asks whether it was he who bore the ‘great pain.’ However, who exactly is ‘He’ referring to? Perhaps it’s the person that has passed away, or maybe its the person that possesses the numb heart. Did this person this person that suffered the ‘great pain’ feel it yesterday (perhaps the day of passing)? Or did he feel this suffering a long time before passing? Maybe the person that died has been suffering from a disease for a long time and knew that an early death was inevitable and therefor they suffered from the pain of loss a long time before actually passing away.
“The stiff Heart questions ‘was it He, that bore,’
And ‘Yesterday, or Centuries before’?”
Stanza 2: After experiencing loss we try to cope but we’re still numb. We walk around like zombies. Our movements every day are ‘mechanical,’ rehearsed, and very programmed. We don’t care what we are doing or where we are going just so long as we keep moving. We just go through the motions. Whether these motions are being done on the ‘ground’ or in the ‘air’ we really do not care. We are still numb from the loss, just trying to get through every day life as it goes by. Unfeeling.
“The Feet, mechanical, go round-
A Wooden way
Of Ground, or Air, or Ought-“
We continue to go through our daily routines without regard as to what we are doing. Since we don’t really care our resolve is to carry on, shuffling through heavily like a stone and the thing is, we are content with this. Our numbing blindness weighs us down so heavily that we drag ourselves through the blurry haze of daily routines.
A Quartz contentment, like a stone-“
Stanza 3: The time right after loss is when we feel the heaviest. It is the hardest part about losing someone. But, it is just that, a singular component of coping. This ‘hour’ passes and we move forward only to look back on the time of difficulty; if and only if we survive it. This is the hour at which we can’t move forward with our life. However, surviving this troubled period is not guaranteed and only after surviving it can we look back upon it and realize is was just a part of time; but a hard one at that.
“This is the Hour of Lead-
Remembered, if outlived,”
If we live through it to remember it, then remembering it will be like a person who freezes to death remembering the snow that he died in. How does one remember what killed him? The snow is what caused the person to feel numb just as death is what caused the person experiencing loss to feel numb. When we look back on loss we remember the death and how it froze us out from the world emotionally. First comes the realization of loss, then comes the numbness and loss of focus, then once surviving, if surviving it, we move on and are able to let go of the all-consuming and numbing pain.
“As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow-
First- Chill- then Stupor- then the letting go-“
Overall: In this poem about death and the numbing feeling of loss Dickinson uses personification to emphasize the begrudging qualities it bestows upon us. Each time the personification is about a body part. Line 2; “The Nerves sit ceremonious,” Line 3; “The stiff Heart,” and Line 4; “The Feet, mechanical.” Each of the references to a body part are capitalized, drawing the readers attention to them. Going through the poem we can gather that after going through something traumatic the Nerves are numb, the Heart is confused, and the Feet just of through the motions unfeeling.