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Aiko’s story: Emily Dickinson’s 341 Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Posted by carryapoem in Stories.

Mine is Emily Dickinson’s 341 (After great   pain a formal feeling comes)

After great pain, a formal feeling comes –
The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs
The stiff Heart questions, was it He, that bore,
And Yesterday, or Centuries before?

The Feet, mechanical, go round –
Of Ground, or Air, or Ought –
A Wooden way
Regardless grown,
A Quartz contentment, like a stone –

This is the Hour of Lead –
Remembered, if outlived,
As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow –
First — Chill — then Stupor — then the letting go —

It’s the only one I might possibly be able to recite from memory, especially the last stanza, and quite often a line or two of it will come to mind in random applicable situations–
Anxious before a test: line two
Long slow day at work: stanza two
Walking home in the dark, especially in winter: stanza three, stanza three, stanza three.

I first heard this poem– well, I first read this poem while studying Dickinson in my undergrad at UCLA, and enjoyed her a lot more than I had anticipated. Her back story is intense, and the bulk of work she was able to produce out of mainly being locked inside her bedroom blows the mind. I think we have this notion that a poet needs to ‘experience’ things to have the proper material to write with, but she proves otherwise. This poem in particular appeals to me for its literal pacing — I can almost hear her taking steps around her room, reciting the lines out to the tune of her own movement. I think that’s maybe why I think of it most when I’m walking.

I first heard this poem aloud at a Lucie Brock-Broido reading, where she started her set out by reading #341, her favorite Dickinson poem. I really respect and enjoy (nee put on a pedestal) LBB’s poetry, so to know that she also valued this poem sort of leveled things for me a bit — it reminded me that no matter the time or place, the generation or degree of success, a poem has the power to move people.


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