How does Dickinson's choice of figurative language create the mood of the poem “After Great Pain, A Formal Feeling Comes”?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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One of the great strengths of this poem is the way in which Dickinson uses surprising and yet accurate figurative language to compare the stage of grief that this poem focuses on. Throughout the poem, the figurative language compares the "formal feeling" that is experienced after the initial onset of grief to a hardened yet formal and dignified object, that seems to speak both of the grief and sadness but also of the way in which this is something that represents the transition between the initial outburst of emotion and the final "letting go of the grief."

If we examine this carefully, we can see that the first example of figurative language is in the first stanza, which compares the nerves to tombs: "The nerves sit ceremonious like tombs." This simile bestows great dignity on the nerves whilst also comparing them to an object automatically associated with death. Similar references in the second stanza, like a "quartz contentment, like a stone," helps to consolidate this image before finally describing this stage as "the hour of lead." This is very interesting because it captures the way in which grief literally weighs us down whilst also indicating that it is just a stage and will pass. Such figurative language greatly helps create the formal and sombre mood of this poem that does offer hope at its conclusion.


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