Vocabulary in After Great Pain, a Formal Feeling Comes

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

Text of the Poem 21

"Hour of Lead..."   (Text of the Poem)

The time represented by an “hour” should actually be loosely interpreted to mean something like “an indefinite period of time.” We can support this reading by how the speaker characterizes the hour: one “of Lead.” Lead is dense, like quartz, but it is usually thought of as common, uninteresting, and lacking any great value. Based on this, the phrase suggests that either time is passing in a tedious, boring way, or it is barely passing at all. Both convey the idea of time in which one feels weighed down, burdened, and tired.

"This..."   (Text of the Poem)

The demonstrative pronoun “this” serves to refer to the actions that have occurred in the preceding context. The speaker uses “this” to say that all of the preceding information in the first two stanzas have built on one another and led to the current moment, which she describes as “the Hour of Lead.”

"Quartz contentment..."   (Text of the Poem)

Similar to “formal feeling” earlier, this noun phrase is an oxymoron, or a pair of markedly contradictory terms used for emphasis. “Quartz” is a common rock-forming mineral with a rigid crystalline structure. “Contentment” refers to a state of being satisfied and happy. So, “contentment” suggests a positive feeling while “Quartz” suggests no feeling at all. The speaker’s choice creates a powerful, striking metaphor for how paralyzed the great pain has made her.

"Regardless..."   (Text of the Poem)

The adverb “Regardless” describes the past participle “grown” in this line. When “regardless” is used this way, it means that the word it modifies is not worthy of notice or regard. If we read the past participle “grown” as a modifier for the following noun (“Quartz contentment), then this line suggests that the crystalline, inflexible contentment has developed within the speaker without their notice or care.

"Ought..."   (Text of the Poem)

Another reading of “ought” in this line suggests a meaning similar to the modal verb “should,” as in “one should do something.” This changes the meaning to suggest that the movement needs to happen after the great pain, that the speaker ought to perform in a certain way.

"Of Ground, or Air, or Ought..."   (Text of the Poem)

The speaker continues to describe her movement from one path to another: That the path is “Of Ground” suggests a connection to the earth and soil. The way of “Air” depicts a path with no obstacles or resistance. Finally, “Ought” could refer to the archaic form of “nought,” or “nothing.” All of these nouns suggest an absence of strong feeling and emotion. So, this completes the movement’s progression from the physical to the abstract: ground to air to nothing at all.

"A Wooden way..."   (Text of the Poem)

If we read this phrase as the object of the phrasal verb “go round,” then the meaning differs slightly. In that case, “wooden” is modifying “way.” The speaker has described her movement as mechanical, and now she discusses the different paths available for her feet to move on. “Wooden,” then, suggests a path that was once lively, but now dull, lifeless, and oblivious to sensation.

"A Wooden way..."   (Text of the Poem)

This line most likely functions as an adverbial phrase, describing how the feet move. With this reading, “wooden” applies to the feet, which tells us that the movement of the feet lacks liveliness, interest, and is performed stiffly and without spirit.

"mechanical, go round..."   (Text of the Poem)

The Feet are described as “mechanical,” which shares similarities with the earlier adjectives “formal,” “ceremonious,” and “stiff.” If something is “mechanical,” it moves on a fixed route and without life, performing only routine functions and lacking flexibility. That the mechanical feet “go round” also conveys this sense of lifelessness in the aftermath of the “great pain”: the mind and body have been reduced to carrying out repetitive cycles of behavior.

"bore..."   (Text of the Poem)

This is the past tense of the verb “to bear,” which literally means to support the weight of something while carrying it from one place to another. However, it is also figuratively used to mean the carrying of something—emotions, feelings, pain—that has great weight or requires great effort. The object of the verb then is the “great pain” mentioned earlier and the subject is the heart that has carried this pain with it.

"He..."   (Text of the Poem)

Pronouns typically follow antecedent rules, which would make “He” refer to the “Heart.” If the Heart is questioning whether or not he bore the “great pain,” then this suggests that the Heart is so exhausted that he cannot remember when the pain occurred. This lack of memory, coupled with “Yesterday, or Centuries before,” indicates that the great pain has altered the speaker’s perception of time. Whether the pain was yesterday or many years ago, the effects are still being felt.

"Heart..."   (Text of the Poem)

The speaker personifies another part of the body in this line by referring to the “Heart” as if it could speak. To speak of a heart as “stiff” seems oxymoronic, because a living heart is in constant, regular, necessary motion. The adjective then connects the heart to the nerves and the “great pain” to demonstrate the shock that has penetrated the living components of the speaker, almost causing them to cease functioning.

"stiff..."   (Text of the Poem)

The adjective “stiff” performs a similar function to “ceremonious” and “formal” by conveying a sense of rigidity or perfunctory order. Additionally, since it modifies “heart,” this word also conveys an idea of pain. Presumably the heart is “stiff” in the way that muscles become sore after suffering great strain. In this case, the strain could be physical, emotional, or both.

"Tombs..."   (Text of the Poem)

Generally speaking, a tomb is a place for burial and suggests quiet, stillness, and death. The word “Tombs,” then, introduces the idea of death and mortality into the poem. “Tombs” are notably human-made structures that ritualistically commemorate death. The image of “tombs” reinforces the stiff, ceremonial nature of the speaker’s feelings.

"ceremonious..."   (Text of the Poem)

The word “ceremonious” provides readers with another instance of order, routine, or stiff formality, much in the way “formal” does earlier. Also, “ceremonious” has connotations of melancholy, performance, and silence, which support the notion that the speaker’s feeling is so overwhelming that all she can do is perform rote behavior.

"Nerves sit..."   (Text of the Poem)

In the body, nerves act as sensory receptors and send information to the central nervous system and the brain. This word connects to “pain” from earlier, because nerves are the pathway to one’s experience of pain. Furthermore, the speaker personifies the “Nerves” by having them sit as if in a ceremony, which suggests an image of stillness or quiet.

"comes..."   (Text of the Poem)

In its most literal sense, the verb “to come” means that something has presented itself of its own volition, or choice. This allows for a deeper read of how the “formal feeling” manifests: it arrives of its own accord, which suggests that the speaker has less, or even no, control over when this feeling makes itself known.

"feeling..."   (Text of the Poem)

The noun “feeling” has several nuanced definitions. First, it refers to the experience of any sensation in response to a stimulus, which in this poem is the “great pain.” Second, a “feeling” can also refer to emotions, sentiments, mental sensitivity, or awareness in general. Finally, a “feeling” can refer to a state of consciousness or an emotional attitude. The different meanings of feeling provide readers with multiple ways to interpret, and sympathize with, the kind of experience the speaker is referring to, allowing for a more intimate reading experience.

"formal feeling..."   (Text of the Poem)

The adjective “formal” has a jarring effect that challenges the reader’s assumptions about how the line will resolve itself. “Formal” describes something as having a rigid or orderly quality, two concepts that generally do not describe feelings associated with “great pain.” This alliterative phrase contrasts with the idea of “great pain” because pain of such strength would mean a lack control, measure, and concern for other things on the part of the one experiencing it.

"pain..."   (Text of the Poem)

While the immediate meaning of pain is clear, the word itself has myriad meanings. Since we see that “feeling” follows the pain, and feelings are associated with emotions and other mental attributes, then the speaker is likely using pain to mean mental distress or suffering, such as anguish, grief, or shock.

"great..."   (Text of the Poem)

The adjective “great” in this instance means something that is considerably above average than expected. Since it is modifying “pain,” we understand that the speaker is referring to pain of extreme magnitude or extent.