Kamilla Denman: On 341 ("After great pain, a formal feeling comes--")

While Dickinson did not go so far as to make words mean their logical opposite, she did disrupt conventional arrangements to create emotional and psychological effects, as in the lines of "The Snake" above. A more extended example of this process appears in poem 341 . . . .

Temporal dislocation in the content of the poem is integrally related to its syntactic and metrical form. generally, the order of words in temporal sequence establishes linguistic relationships from which meanings emerge. In this poem, the temporal disruption of the speaker's psyche extends to the syntax and meter, with incomplete sentences and sudden shifts from pentameter to tetrameter to trimeter to dimeter and back. Other phrases in the poem initially seem to form complete sentences but then unravel in subsequent lines that confuse the original meaning, as in the last stanza. There are no periods to mark off any thought as complete, nor even to mark the poem as a complete thought: the final sentence is completely fragmented by dashes. Alan Helms, in his incisive reading of the punctuation in this poem, says that the dashes in the last line approximate the experience of freezing by slowing down the tempo. The final verb, "letting go," is followed by a dash that hangs the poem and the experience described in the poem over a visual and aural precipice of frozen silence. Were the sentences to be made complete and the poem conventionally punctuated, the essence of the experience it describes would be lost. Clearly, much of Dickinson’s power in evoking psychological states lies in her disregard for conventional rules of grammar and punctuation, as well as conventional rules of poetic meter, line, and rhyme.

The poem begins with words conventionally grouped (though the punctuation marks Dickinson used were not conventional), but by the third line, the grammar of the poem begins to disintegrate with the introduction of an additional comma, leaving only the iambic pentameter as a stabilizing if relentless rhythmic force throughout the first stanza. The first line describes the psychological state philosophically, the second describes it imagistically, and the two make an impressive epigram. But Dickinson is not content to end the poem here: she must explore the state from a more intimate and vulnerable standpoint. She is not content to recollect emotion in tranquillity, nor to describe it in eloquent, complete sentences. The introduction of the subject, "He," causes the clear ideas and images of the first two lines to crumble into disconnected images and fragmented phrases. The comma that follows the word, "He," is the first signal of the breakdown in the syntax, separating predicate nominative from its relative pronoun and verb, and person from action. The disruptive comma also creates a temporal dislocation that permeates the poem: the present thought is not completed (the object of "bore" is lacking), as the speaker unsuccessfully seeks to locate the incomplete action in past time. The present experience described in the second stanza is a mechanical, cyclical treadmill, while the past of the first stanza stretches out vaguely and endlessly. In the final stanza, past and present are confused in the line, "Freezing persons, recollect the Snow." The present participle evokes a present condition, but the snow that is causing the freezing is disconcertingly thrown into the chasm of the past by the verb, "recollect." The experience of freezing is so intensely present that even the snow that causes it, like the "He" who bore the pain, seems to belong in the past.

From "Emily Dickinson’s Volcanic Punctuation." Emily Dickinson Journal (1993)

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Criticism Overview
Title Kamilla Denman: On 341 ("After great pain, a formal feeling comes--") Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Kamilla Denman Criticism Target Emily Dickinson
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 12 Sep 2015
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication The Emily Dickinson Journal
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