There is a pain so utter
There is a pain — so utter —
It swallows substance up —
Then covers the Abyss with Trance —
So Memory can step
Around — across — upon it —
As one within a Swoon —
Goes safely — where an open eye —
Would drop Him — Bone by Bone.
The poem was not published during Dickinson's lifetime. Like many of Dickinson's poems, it was substantially changed when it was originally published in 1929. Dickinson's version with her distinctive dashes was restored by scholar Thomas H. Johnson for his 1955 edition of The Poems of Emily Dickinson.
Pain is a recurring theme in Dickinson's poetry. This poem possibly describes an altered state of mind ("trance", "swoon") which makes the pain bearable. In this state of mind the memory is allowed to be selective, to "step around the abyss".
Dickinson led a secluded life and occasionally suffered from nervous breakdowns, which was not uncommon in the 19th Century.(Citation needed)
- More information about "There is a pain - so utter", Emily Dickinson, Modern American Poetry
- Emily Dickinson's use of the dash, Emily Dickinson, Modern American Poetry
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