Monday, March 2, 2015

[After great pain, a formal feeling comes-] - Emily Dickinson

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 -
A Wooden way
Of Ground, or Air, or Ought -
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 - the the letting go -

That heavy moment after emotional upheaval seems to transcend all time, settling into an almost crystalline ("Quartz" like, in this poem) moment, apart from place, time, making us feel wooden, mechanical.  We use the phrase "going through the motions" today for a similar feeling.  Doing something in absence of meaning or knowledge.  Even the memory of these moments after "great pain" is enough to freeze us in place, as described so perfectly in the last stanza.  It is the "Hour of Lead."  When we remember this pain, if we even survive it to begin with, it is like recollecting snow.  It first chills us, puts us into a stupor, and then, finally, we awake, and let go of the pain.

It is a formal feeling, both in that it follows a form and pattern, and also in how there is almost a nobility to such suffering.  The language of the poem, though simple, feels somehow elevated by the subject matter.  Natural elements are present in their most basic forms.  Air.  Ground.  Quartz.  Lead.  Cold.  There's something elemental about this, and the nerves being the tombs of our emotions and feelings is understandable.  That numbness and tingling that comes with heartache and emotional trauma are like a minor death of the self.  What a magnificent poem.

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