“After Great Pain, A Formal Feeling Comes” Analysis


Creativity and ideas are born from reclusion and pain. The two traits enabled Emily Dickson to express her hidden pain, creativity, and emotions in her poem “After Great Pain, A Formal Feeling Comes.” The poem explores the feelings of pain, sorrow, reclusion, and suffering, which are relayed through the metaphors and figurative language used. The persona feels the fading moment and sliding from life to death, which is a feeling not easily felt, especially when excited and happy (Spacey, 2019). The author shows how the persona can recognize the post-trauma stress and physical paralysis, which is dark humor and creatively showing realism. “After Great Pain, A Formal Feeling Comes,” is a poem exploring the theme of pain and sorrow and uses imagery to create a picture of a potential funeral as well as mental death and finality. 

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Poetry Analysis 

After Great Pain, A Formal Feeling Comes” is a poem expressing the theme of pain and sorrow of the author as well as the persona. Primarily, the title “After Great Pain” clearly illustrates the presence of mental anguish, anxiety, sadness, and grief. The language and simile used to describe the pain and sorrow are the tombs, which we all know are cold, heavy, and are containers for the dead only (Spacey, 2019). The entire poem shows the feeling of intense pain, anguish, and suffering, which indicate post-trauma stress as well as physical discomfort caused by paralysis. Emily questions if that is the feeling He, Jesus felt while on the Cross, in the line: “The stiff Heart questions ‘was it He that bore.” 

Secondly, the theme of pain and despair can be said to be the elements that motivated Emily to write the poem. She uses imagery to describe death and the nonexistence of immortality in human life, which is simply that she is questioning human existence and thoughts. From the first stanza, she introduces pain and suffering through the numbness and even personifies the nerves as they “sit ceremoniously, like tombs.” Thirdly, in the third stanza, the author uses the metal lead in the opening line: “This is the Hour of Lead,” to show the suffering is at the peak. Lead is the heaviest metal known, and this symbolizes the exact heaviness one feels when suffering and in sorrow or anguish. 

The author uses imagery to create a picture of a potential funeral from the first to the last lines. In the first stanza, the first stage of the funeral ceremony is highlighted, which is the beginning of the suffering and pain through death (Spacey, 2019). This suffering is seen in the first, second, and third lines namely, “After great pain, a formal feeling comes – The Nerves sit ceremonious, like tombs – The stiff Heart questions, “was it He, that bore.” The nerves are numb, the heart is stiff, and the persona questions whether that pain is what Jesus withstood while dying on the Cross. In the second stanza, the actual ceremony is described, where pallbearers carry off the casket. This is seen in the first and second lines, whereby the pallbearers match rhythmically and mechanically carrying the coffin (Spacey, 2019). Finally, in the third stanza, the finalization of the funeral, which is the hardest moment, as seen in the opening line, “This is the Hour of Lead.”


The poem “After great pain, a formal feeling comes,” illustrates what mental anguish and death feel like. These feelings are explained clearly from the imagery seen in the three stanzas. They all are familiar as they show three stages of pain and suffering, including lack of acceptance that brings post-traumatic stress, secondly comes the physical pain of giving up, and finally giving in to the pain and healing, thus the formal feeling. Secondly, the three stanzas form imagery of three stages of a potential funeral. Including the beginning of physical suffering, followed by carrying the casket away, and finally, the heavy moment of letting go. This all makes sense as to the stages of pain and grief in human existence that seem to have an undefiable sequence. Surprisingly, it is through reclusion that one can create two different but similar pictures and sequences.


Spacey, A. (2019, January 27). Analysis of Poem “After great pain, a formal feeling comes” by Emily Dickinson. Retrieved from https://owlcation.com/humanities/Analysis-of-Poem-After-Great-Pain-A-Former-Feeling-Comes-by-Emily-Dickinson

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