Study Guide

After great pain, a formal feeling comes Suffering

By Emily Dickinson

Suffering

"After great pain, a formal feeling comes" doesn't give us a scream-y, whiny version of suffering. Instead, it delves into what it's like after we've experienced a major pain. Sometimes this includes physical pain, but it seems like the poem is a lot more concerned with pain that's emotional. After an emotional trauma, many of us can feel numb, and the poem captures that beautifully—if you can call it beautiful at all. The poem's disjointed images take us to that dark, numb place where our bodies might not even feel like our own. This is a poem for those who know what it's like to silently suffer after all the screaming is done.

Questions About Suffering

  1. What is the difference between the "great pain" the poem describes and the "formal feeling" that comes after?
  2. What images of suffering strike you the most in the poem? Why those?
  3. Do you think line 3 alludes to the suffering of Jesus? Why, or why not?

Chew on This

The poem shows that the emotional numbness that follows a trauma can be just as traumatic as the original event.

The poem uses images of physical numbness to describe emotional pain.