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Meter in After Great Pain, a Formal Feeling Comes

Meter Examples in After Great Pain, a Formal Feeling Comes:

Text of the Poem

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"First—Chill—then Stupor—then the letting go—..."   (Text of the Poem)

Dickinson carries her criticism of stifled, unoriginal poetic forms through to the poem’s end. In each stanza, Dickinson introduces a stylistic element that flies in the face of the uninspired verse she criticizes. In the second stanza, she plays with meter and line length. She opens the third stanza with a startling dactyl—a three syllable foot, with a stress at the beginning. This dactyl runs counter to the “mechanical,” iambic feet typical of formal verse. Dickinson sums up the history of plodding, formal verse as “the hour of Lead.” Lead, with its dull gray color and its density, suggests a dreariness as well as a heaviness. Dickinson suggests that it is time for innovation, that the “hour” is over. The formal inventiveness of the poem itself is a solution to the problems it points to.

"like a stone—..."   (Text of the Poem)

In the second stanza, Dickinson continues the thread of criticism for the forms and inhibitions of traditional poetry. Dickinson points out the “mechanical” nature of poetic “Feet,” which conform to the normal iambic rhythm—an alternation between stressed and unstressed syllables. Dickinson characterizes this alternation as “Of Ground, or Air.” The word “Ought” serves to underscore this sense of obedience to traditional forms, this “Wooden way.” The result is poetry overly weighed down by tradition, heavy “like a stone.” In the midst of this, Dickinson experiments heavily with the poem’s form and meter. The second stanza departs from the earlier pentameter entirely, instead shifting fluidly between two-, three-, and four-beat lines.

"or Centuries before?..."   (Text of the Poem)

The final two lines can be read as revealing the rush of conflicting emotions felt in the process of loss and grief. “Heaven” and “hell” serve as figures for the speaker’s contrasting interior states. Loss, or “parting,” offers glimpses of heaven through the intense feelings of love for the lost person. It is also a hellishly painful experience, and thus “all we need of hell.”

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