Study Guide

After great pain, a formal feeling comes Stanza 2

By Emily Dickinson

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Stanza 2

Lines 5-7

The Feet, mechanical, go round –
A Wooden way
Of Ground, or Air, or Ought – 

  • Man, if we thought the first stanza was discombobulating, then this one takes the cake (which is rude because we were saving the cake for ourselves).
  • Our best take on these lines is that they're describing the way we walk around like zombies through our everyday lives after something terrible goes down. 
  • Again, the speaker mentions a part of the body—this time Feet, which are described as trudging around mechanically. 
  • So after we go through something bad, the Nerves are numb, the Heart is confused, and the Feet just kind of phone it in. 
  • In a way, this mechanical foot imagery connects with the deathly imagery from the first stanza. If we move like machines, then it's like we're only half-alive; we're existing somewhere between life and death.
  • Line 6 continues to describe this sluggish way of walking by describing it as "Wooden." Feet that are made of wood probably aren't too good at being feet. They're heavy, cumbersome, and unfeeling—ooh, we're back to numbness again. 
  • Of course, the syntax here is confusing, so "Wooden" might not even be directly describing the feet. "Wooden way" could be describing the path that the mechanical mover is walking down. Still, it seems like the wood imagery has the same effect; it's a path of dull numbness. 
  • Line 7 throws even more ambiguity our way by questioning if this "Wooden way" is even made of wood. Maybe it's made of dirt—something totally solid.
  • Then again it could be the air we breathe—something totally not solid.
  • Or it could be "Ought." Wait a sec. What the heck is "Ought"?
  • Well, "ought" is an auxiliary verb that we use to describe something we're supposed to be doing. 
  • Example: We ought to be writing a paper on Emily Dickinson instead of playing Skyrim right now. 
  • With that in mind, is it possible that the speaker is referencing the way that we numbly slog through our responsibilities after a big trauma?
  • We still have to do what we have to do, but in the direct aftermath of awfulness, our everyday lives can seem totally unreal.

Lines 8-9

Regardless grown,
A Quartz contentment, like a stone – 

  • Oh boy, more ambiguity. 
  • These last two lines of the stanza seem to be continuing to describe the feelings of confusion and numbness that the poem's been slathering us with. 
  • "Regardless" can describe something that's done without any attention to what's going on. Example? Regardless of the fact that there were hungry dogs in pen, Johnny walked in wearing a suit made of bacon. (Too far?)
  • So it seems like whatever has "grown" has done so without regard for what's happening around it.
  • The poem doesn't bother to make it clear what it is that's grown, though. Is it the "Wooden way" from line 6? Could we be talking about the way a person in shock might walk through their everyday responsibilities without paying attention to anything around them? There's also just as good of a chance that it's describing those robot feet from line 5.
  • It all comes to the same thing no matter how you choose you look at it. The speaker is getting across a feeling of total disorientation. 
  • "Regardless grown" could even be describing the "Quartz contentment" of line 9.
  • Whoa, what's "Quartz contentment"? Well, as with everything in this poem it could be a lot of things. 
  • For one, the mention of a stone like quartz reminds us of the "Tombs" from line 2, especially since the speaker adds the simile "like a stone."
  • Again, we could be getting at a feeling of deathly numbness that comes when we're in shock. 
  • We also can't help but wonder why the speaker talks about quartz specifically.
  • Well quartz is kind of crystalline and translucent; if you look through it, you'll get a hazy view of the world, which totally works with the blurry vision the poem's been painting so far. 
  • It's also interesting that the speaker uses the word "contentment," a word that's usually used to describe when we're happy and satisfied (like we feel after eating a particularly good lasagna).
  • Here, the speaker flips the word on its head a bit and uses it to describe the total lack of feeling that can follow a trauma. 
  • Before we escape this stanza, we'll also point out that the meter has gone bonkers.
  • Gone are the steady days of iambic pentameter, although we do still end the stanza with a rhyme. 
  • Check out "Form and Meter" for more.

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