[In "After great pain, a formal feeling comes," the] three stanzas faintly shadow forth three stages of a familiar ceremony: the formal service, the tread of pallbearers, and the final lowering into a grave. But metaphor is subdued to meaning by subtle controls. . . . /210/ This poem has recently received the explication it deserves, matching its excellence. But its pertinence to this whole group of poems is such as to justify a brief summary of the interpretation here.
'In a literal sense,' according to this critic, there is 'neither persona nor ritual, and since it describes a state of mind, neither would seem to be necessary.' Instead, as befits one who has lost all sense of identity, the various parts of the body are personified as autonomous entities (the nerves, the heart, the feet), belonging to no one and moving through the acts of a meaningless ceremony, lifeless forms enacted in a trance. As a result, attention is centered on the feeling itself and not on the pattern of figures that dramatize it. As the images of a funeral rite subside, two related ones emerge to body forth the victim who is at once a living organism and a frozen form. Both are symbols of crystallization: 'Freezing' in the snow, which is neither life nor death but both simultaneously; and ‘A Quartz contentment, like a stone,' for the paradoxical serenity that follows intense suffering. This recalls her envy of the 'little Stone,' happy because unconscious of the exigencies that afflict mortals, and points forward to the paradox in another poem, 'Contented as despair.' Such is the 'formal feeling' that comes after great pain. It is, ironically, no feeling at all, only numb rigidness existing outside time and space. /211/