Tuesday, May 26, 2020

After "After great pain"

"After great pain, a formal feeling comes": after the comma in the first line of Emily Dickinson's poem are three iambic feet. But before that, "after" has first-syllable stress, so the first foot is a trochee. One can experiment with the stress of "great pain" (as I just did while writing this), but only one reading makes sense: a spondee, with both syllables equally stressed. As the next line continues with the iambic pattern of the end of the first line, the poem's own "formal feeling" – its "mechanical feet", to paraphrase the fifth line – is only established after the phrase "after great pain". That is, the form acts out the content. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 26 May)

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