There is a pain so utter: All You Need to Know to Understand the Poem

Cober image for the There is a pain so utter featuring Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson’s writing is so lucid yet so dense at the same time, that reading her poems which are ever so unconventional puts the readers into the heart of the poet and makes them experience what Dickinson must have been feeling at that moment. There is a Pain so Utter is one such poem where Dickinson talks about some specific, merciless pains that are so extraordinary that they leave a different effect on our minds. 

At first, the poem might sound a little complex, owing to the dashed and condensed form, but once the knot unlocks, everything opens up in an instant. Before we get into analyzing the poem and its essence, take a look at the poem;

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.

Analysis of the poem: The effects of this pain

There is a pain – so utter –

It swallows substance up –

Then covers the Abyss with Trance –

So Memory can step

There are some painful moments in our lives that hurt us. Some hurt for a moment, some for a little bit longer and some for really long. But these painful moments and their effects fade away eventually. So no matter how painful it is at that moment, time has the power to heal it all. 

But then there is a pain which is so utter that it has a very different effect on us. Instead of hurting us, it swallows a part of us from the inside. It takes away a major emotional and constitutional chunk forever and then covers that empty space with trance, almost like covering up a massive hole by keeping something over it. But why does it gets covered up 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.

It is not the pain that covers the void with trance but our minds. It’s done so that memory can step around, across, and upon it. So that the sufferer can look back and have all their other memories intact, visit some of their happy memories, painful memories all while unknowingly walking over the void that was created by this one devastating pain.

So what happens if this void is not covered by trance? As the last two sentences of the poem say “Goes safely – where an open eye – Would drop Him – Bone by Bone.” If there is no trance-like state, a state of inebriation where the sufferer has faint ideas of what had happened, he would fall into this void, bone by bone until there is nothing of him left anymore.

The trance allows the person to live a normal life, to have all his memories intact, and be able to relive all those memories. If there was no “covering of this void”, one would always fall into it and never be able to think or remember about anything else. This is why the trance is so necessary. 

How does one can relate to it? 

People who have had traumatic experiences can understand what this trance-like state Dickinson is referring to. Dickinson herself experienced many of these traumas and hence was so eloquent in expressing the experience. 

Sometimes while remembering such traumatic events, people tend to forget the details of them. The memory stays there intact, but the trance makes it hazy. So one can make out the shape of it, but never the face of it. This is what Dickinson meant by saying “So Memory can step, Around – across – upon it –, As one within a Swoon –”

This is what happens when one tries to remember such overwhelmingly painful memories. One can feel it, one can remember the effects of it, but cannot dare to go back and experience it again. Not only the person is unable to, but it is impossible to. The mind withdraws the person from falling into the void. 

There is a pain so utter by Emily Dickinson
There is a pain so utter by Emily Dickinson

Paraphrase of the poem

Some painful moments are so devastating 

That not only do they hurt, but they eat up something 

Inside of us and then cover them with 

A blanket of haze, to cover up the pain’s intensity

So that every other memory stays intact and one can go back 

While avoiding this painful memory 

And if there is no covering, one would be broken

One by one, but eventually losing everything.

Here are some more poems by Emily Dickinson that you might like:

Literary devices in the poem

Here are the literary devices used in the poem;

Metaphor: Metaphor is the most used literary device here. In fact, the entire poem is actually a metaphor. 

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.

Alliteration: The alliteration used is marked as bold.

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.

Enjambment: Enjambment is used in all of Emily Dickinson’s poems. Here are some examples from this one:

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.

Rhyme scheme: Dickinson is known for her unconventional use of rhyming schemes. While most of her poems employ slant rhyming, this poem has no rhyming scheme. Perhaps the reason for that is due to the size of the poem and the message it conveys. The goal of Dickinson with this poem was to convey the meaning, be it in a poetical way or not.

This concludes the article.

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