Study Guide

After great pain, a formal feeling comes Death

By Emily Dickinson

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Emily is no stranger to the theme of death; we're guessing they're BFFs since the theme comes to hang out in so many of her poems. In "After great pain, a formal feeling comes," the theme stops by to kick it in a few different ways. Mostly deathly images are used to represent the numb feeling that we often have after we've dealt with a horrific event. The poem uses conflicting images to show how sometimes we can feel dead even while we're still alive and kicking. Also, because the poem is so loaded with morbid imagery, our minds definitely go to the idea that the painful event in the past was the death of someone close.

Questions About Death

  1. What typical symbols of death are found in the poem? Are there any atypical ones? Or does Dickinson manage to put a spin on the old ones in any way?
  2. How does the poem blur the lines between life and death? How does this connect to the larger meaning of the poem?
  3. What emotional state does death represent in the poem?

Chew on This

The speaker is clearly trying to get over a recent death in her life.

The poem uses deathly imagery to evoke the sense of numbness we sometimes feel after a horrific event.

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