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After great pain, a formal feeling comes—
The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs
The stiff Heart questions, was it He, that bore,
And Yesterday, or Centuries before?
The Feet, mechanical, go round—
Of Ground, or Air, or Ought—
A Wooden way
A Quartz contentment, like a stone—
This is the Hour of Lead—
Remembered, if outlived,
As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow—
First—Chill—then Stupor—then the letting go—
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A great example of Dickinson's modern thinking. We know now that, after a psychological shock, our senses--"The Nerves"--often shut down for awhile. That Dickinson recognized this is remarkable for her time.
Dickinson here describes the aftermath of a mental shock--the person continues to carry out tasks but is on auto-pilot. The theme of this poem--what happens to a person after a shock--is unique for this time period. At the time ED wrote this (ca. 1860) doctors understood very little about what happens when a person suffers psychological trauma. More important, such a theme would not be considered appropriate for poetry in the mid-19thC., especially for a woman.
A perfect image of emotional and psychological numbness--ED's observation is very unusual for a person in mid-19thC. Considering that ED had very little formal education, we wonder where she learned enough to make such medically-accurate observations.
A remarkable line because it accurately describes the stages of freezing to death, something that would be outside ED's experience and not even well known to doctors in the mid-19thC.