Emily Dickinson is now considered one of the most important poets in American literature but during her lifetime her work remained largely private.
She was greatly influenced by the Puritan religious tradition. She never married and she lived with her parents and sister nearly her entire life.
Of the nearly 1,800 poems she wrote, only 10 were published when she was alive. After her death, her sister Lavinia discovered her work and decided to reveal her sister´s talent to the world. It is in 1890 when her poetry began to be known.
She was a very lonely person and there are many speculations about her lifestyle. She preferred solitude rather than socializing and she was completely different from the standars of a woman in the 19th century. Because for her, getting married and having children was not a priority.In the 1800s it was very difficult to live as a single woman, but by the end of the century we have an emergence of the women´s rights movemet and a lively debate about the proper roles for women.
Her poetry is unique, in the sense that she departed from her female contemporaries and she questioned nature, God, life and death.Her poems are praised for their intensity and conciseness. Her language is highly dramatic. In her poetry she also reveals an inner struggle, maybe caused by her religious doubt and the situation of women in that period. Besides, she captures the smallest details of nature with her words.
Dickinson wrote the poem you have below in the 1860s. At that time she also wrote some letters where she describes her joy and frustration as a result of her love for an anonymous man. This idea is also shown in this poem.
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 -
Of Ground, or Air, or Ought -
A Wooden way
A Quartz contentment, like a stone -
This is the Hour of Lead -
Remebered, if outlived,
As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow -
First - Chill- then Stupor- then the letting go -
Emily Dickinson - After Great Pain por poetictouch
Answer the following questions:
1. What is the poem about? What type of feelings come to your mind when you read the poem?
2. Dickinson tries to show in the poem a physical response to grief, pain, loss. How does she achieve that? What literary devices does she use to get that sensation?
3. Do we have an optimistic or pessimistic idea about love and loss?
4. Analyze the rythem and rhyme in the poem.
5. Dickinson uses punctuation in unique ways. Look for examples of dashes, capitalization, diction and try to explain how they contribute to create meaning and to reinforce her ideas.
I heard a Fly buzz - when I died -
The Stillness in the Room
Was like the Stillness in the Air -
Between the Heaves of Storm -
The Eyes around - had wrung them dry -
And Breaths were gathering firm
For that last Onset - when the King
Be witnessed - in the Room -
I willed my Keepsakes - Signed away
What portion of me be
Assignable - and then it was
There interposed a Fly -
With Blue - uncertain - stumbling Buzz -
Between the light - and me -
Ant then the Windows failed - and then
I could not see to see -
Let´s read and analyze it a bit more. Try to look for:
1. Rhyme and rhythm.
2. Ideas shown in the poem about life, death, eternity, religion.
3. Literary devices. Can you find any?
There´s a film called A Quiet Passion (2016) where you can see the story of this poet from her early days to her years of a reclusive, unrecognized artist. Here you have the trailer.