After Great Pain

In Emily Dickinson’s poem “After great pain, a formal feeling comes,” the poet describes how the body manifests itself as a result of extreme emotional pain. There is a formality of feeling:

“The nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs — / The feet, mechanical, go round -.”

The way is “wooden,” and the remembered hour is leaden. Any contentment is compared to a stone. Indeed, all of the descriptors of the feeling evoked by great pain suggest death — as the body retreats into a lifeless state. Ironically, that lifeless state seems a survival mechanism — a way to protect the heart from breaking again and again.

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