After Great Pain, A Formal Feeling Comes Summary and Analysis

Emily Dickinson- One of America’s greatest poets, Emily Dickinson, revolutionised American Literature, especially poetry through her unconventional themes and writing style. Majority of Dickinson’s works revolved around the themes of time, immortality, notions of sanity & insanity, and death. Emily Dickinson’s brilliant work is believed to be a product of her extraordinary connect with her own emotions and her understanding of human personality transitions along different phases of life.
After Great Pain, A Formal Feeling Comes- “After Great Pain, a Formal Feeling Comes” by Emily Dickinson portrays the human emotion of grief and pain by objectifying the said emotions and the state of mind during and after such experiences.

Setting of After Great Pain, A Formal Feeling Comes-

The poem is composed in loose rhythm and consists of three stanzas of thirteen lines. This poem is set in the form of a normal dialog cum speech explaining the experience of pain and grief and the state of the mind & body, during and after such experience.

Poetic Devices in After Great Pain, A Formal Feeling Comes-

Personification: “Nerves sit ceremonious”- Nerves being personified, portrayed as performing the function of sitting like that of a living being.
Objectification: “The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs”, “The feet mechanical, go round, a wooden way”
Alliteration: “…Chill-then Stupor-then the…”, “This is the hour of lead”, “Of ground, or air, or ought”


“After great pain, a formal feeling comes –     (A)
The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs –      (B)
The stiff Heart questions ‘was it He, that bore,’ (C)
And ‘Yesterday, or Centuries before’? (C)
The Feet, mechanical, go round – (D)
A Wooden way   (E)
Of Ground, or Air, or Ought – (F)
Regardless grown,   (G)
A Quartz contentment, like a stone –   (G)
This is the Hour of Lead –   (H)
Remembered, if outlived,     (I)
As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow –   (J)
First – Chill – then Stupor – then the letting go –“   (J)

Summary of After Great Pain, A Formal Feeling Comes- 

The poem portrays the feeling of numbness that follows great grief or pain, the kind of emotional ache one feels after the loss of a loved one. The poet says that after great pain comes the “formal feeling” of numbness, where the nerves sit still, unmoving, like a “Tomb”. The heart, in a state of disbelief and ache, questions whether it really did go through the tremendous pain and if yes, then how long has it been, “was it he that bore/Yesterday or centuries before?” This formal feeling of stupefaction further heightens with the feet working in an automatic mechanical order, “a wooden way”, and the heart obtaining a stone like contentment. The poet says that those who outlive this difficult “hour”, remember it like a person who has been frozen remembers the snow.

Critical Analysis of After Great Pain, A Formal Feeling Comes-

“After Great Pain, a Formal Feeling Comes”, represents in an extraordinary way a state of shock and numbness that follows emotional grief or pain. The poet’s use of words like “tomb”, “ceremonious”, “stone”, all are indicative of the pain of losing a loved one. The “formal feeling” the poet talks about is the numbness, the shock that occurs when the realisation of the great loss settles in. This notion of stupefaction is highlighted through “the stiff heart”/“the nerves sit ceremonious”/“contentment like a stone”, all portraying the stillness and lastly, “freezing/snow” heightens the image of numbness and shock.

Tone of After Great Pain, A Formal Feeling Comes-

The poem is written in a loose rhyme. Following her unconventional writing style, Emily has composed the poem skilfully in the form of a natural speech. The tone of the poem is calm yet strong and the objectification aid in putting forward the theme and the message of the poem.
Conclusion- “After Great Pain, a Formal Feeling comes” is an amazing poem that recognises the greatest pain any living being can suffer and describes brilliantly the following state, after the emotional grief. The objectification employed by the poet constitutes for the magnificence of the poem as it aids in explaining the unexplainable, the reality of shock and numbness.