Monday, October 5, 2009

Pain-- has an Element of Blank--

Pain-- has an Element of Blank--
It cannot recollect
When it begun-- Or if there were
A time when it was not--

It has no Future-- but itself--
It's Infinite contain
It's Past-- enlightened to perceive
New Periods-- Of Pain.
(F 760)

This poem perfectly captures the essence of pain, particularly chronic pain. Whether physical, emotional, or psychological, pain can take on that "element of blank", wherein the person enduring the pain feels lost in the sensation and may feel, for brief or longer periods, as though the pain always has previously existed and could continue to exist indefinitely. Sometimes pain can become so all-encompassing that it is consuming, seeming to stretch itself into all time.

Dickinson's poem parallels this perception of pain, as her poem focuses on the subject of pain but does so in a blank manner. There are no specifics as to what kind of pain this speaker experiences, no context given for the occasion of pain. Although only eight lines, this poem ironically creates a feeling of eternity in its compact language. Despite the lack of memory, as it cannot recall a beginning or end, it is full of the intensity of the feeling in the moment, sharply and achingly aware of the depth and breadth of hurt.

For the readers who may think the pain can be overcome with "mind over matter" or some sort of enlightenment or hope, this hope is squashed in the second stanza. The only enlightenment or perception offered to the reader comes in the final line-- the revelation of "new periods-- of pain". Just as the poem claims pain seemingly has to beginning or end, the poem begins and ends with the word "pain." It is all encompassing in structure, circuitous and another symbol of a self-perpetuating eternity, demonstrating again Dickinson's ability to use language and structure compressed into one another to heighten the emotion to a single moment or experience of intensity.

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