Study Guide

After great pain, a formal feeling comes Stanza 3

By Emily Dickinson

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Stanza 3

Lines 10-11

This is the Hour of Lead –
Remembered, if outlived, 

  • These lines are again getting at a feeling of emotional numbness, and they set us up to think about how we look back on these times if we manage to make it out alive. Oh, Emily, you always know how to cheer us up.
  • The mention of lead makes us think of the saying "heavy as lead," so we assume that an "Hour of Lead" is a period of time when we feel heavy.
  • Not the sort of heavy we feel after the Holidays—we're talking emotionally heavy, here. Many of us definitely feel like that when we're in shock, right?
  • Also, if you ever hear somebody described as "leaden," then that means they're being dull, heavy, or slow. This idea totally jibes with those mechanical feet from line 5, especially because it uses the image of a metal. 
  • The image of lead also creates an interesting contrast with the quartz in line 9. While quartz is pretty and translucent, lead is ugly and opaque. It seems like the speaker just can't get enough of throwing contradicting images at us. 
  • Once again, it feels like this is purposely done to get across a general sense of disorientation. An "Hour of Lead" is also contradictory in and of itself. An hour is a unit of time that moves forward, while a lump of lead stays put. 
  • To us, this communicates the idea that time feels like it's standing still when we're in shock. 
  • Line 11 sets us up to think about how we might look back on this terrible time. Notice, though, that the speaker doesn't tell us living through this period is a done deal.
  • She says, "if outlived," and even puts a comma before the "if" to make sure we don't miss it.
  • Placing a comma in the middle of a line like that creates a bit of a pause called a caesura, and here it puts neon lights on the fact that survival is not guaranteed.

Lines 12-13

As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow –
First – Chill – then Stupor – then the letting go – 

  • The final lines close out the poem with a simile that—surprise, surprise—is a little unclear. 
  • The speaker is kicking back to lines 10-11 and telling us that if we manage to survive the period of shock then remembering it will be the same as how people who freeze to death remember snow. 
  • Question: how do people who've frozen to death remember anything? The simile directly contradicts "outlived" in line 11.
  • If somebody experiences "the letting go," (a.k.a. dying) then they haven't outlived anything.
  • It seems like the speaker is using this contradiction to again put us in a state that's between life and death.
  • Just like with the tomb-y nerves in the first stanza and the robotic walking in the second, here we're put in a numb in between place. 
  • The idea of numbness is hammered home by the image of snow. The feeling of freezing to death in a snowstorm—that's gotta be as about as numb as it gets. 
  • Like in 11, the speaker also stops the show with a caesura. In line 12, she puts a comma between "persons" and "recollect."
  • There's no grammatical reason for this, but what it does do is put some space between the words.
  • The final line is caesura'd to the max.
  • Here, Emily's trademark dashes divide up the line, putting pauses all the way through. All this pausing in the midst of the line does a great job of slowing the poem down. 
  • This is especially poignant in the last line when the speaker is describing the stages of freezing to death, which can be a slow process. 
  • Overall, this fracturing of the final lines seems like a great way to end a poem that gives us such a vivid picture of the fractured consciousness of a person numbly reeling from a big trauma.

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