Study Guide

After great pain, a formal feeling comes Calling Card

By Emily Dickinson

Calling Card

Cap'n Capitalization

You'll find plenty of Emily's greatest hits in this poem. There is—as always—her use of creative capitalization. One of our favorite examples is where she capitalizes "Nerves" and "Heart." Here the capitalization seems to help with the personification that's going on—both of these body parts are given human traits, and capitalizing their names makes them seem more like people than things.

Dashes on Dashes

Emily is also as dash happy as ever in this poem. Many of the lines are followed by dashes, and she makes it count where she chooses to leave them out. Take the second stanza for example:

The Feet, mechanical, go round –
A Wooden way
Of Ground, or Air, or Ought –
Regardless grown,
A Quartz contentment, like a stone –
(5-9)

See how leaving out the dash speeds up the rhythm of lines 6 and 8? We wonder if this was meant to give the feeling of those mechanical feet stumbling forward at an erratic pace.

The last line of the poem also does a cool thing with dashes:

First – Chill – then Stupor – then the letting go – (13)

By breaking up the line, Emily slows down the pace, allowing us to feel the slowly beating heart of a person who's freezing to death. (Not sure if that's what we want to feel right now, but we appreciate the effort.)

Metrical Maiden

Beyond the usual capitalization and dash games that Emily always plays, we also see her getting funky with meter. She doesn't do this in every single poem, but she's definitely known for being a meter rebel.

You can check out "Form and Meter" for all the deets on this, but the meter highlights from this poem are that it starts out in standard iambic pentameter for the first stanza, goes all crazy in the middle, then lands us back in pentameter land at the end. This is really Emily at her meter rebel best, because the shifting meters all jibe perfectly with the complex images she's throwing at us—from the stiff "formal feeling" in the first stanza (1), to the chaotic images of the second, to the slow sinking into death at the end.