Pain and Art

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

Here we have one of the poems of Emily Dickinson, a careful study of pain, or the after effects thereof. Despite how indignant some people get after its arrival, pain is a part of this existence. Freud actually theorized that it was such an inevitable part of existence that even the first one-celled organism to slide from the muck had enough angst to consider suicide. However we try to avoid, however we attempt to reframe, and whatever measures we take pain will come.

The measure of a life then is not so much a quantification of sufferings but a matter of how one deals with those insults. Stopping is to be defeated. Voluntary numbing is a stalemate. Moving on is life’s triumph.

Writing, like any art, offers one avenue of triumph, the opportunity to take something negative and use it in creative expression, to produce something positive out of the experience. The sting of love lost becomes the melancholy sonnet. The emptiness of death becomes the vessel for an ode to life still left to live. Bitter disappointment becomes strident challenge to concede the battle but press on in the war. If nothing else, writing becomes a place outside of one’s head to put the rot and filth and stink that invades in the wake of injury. However the fates conspire, whatever evil this way comes, and whatever ill wind blows victory over the pain will come.

8 comments Posted 2011-01-19 Author: THX 0477


  • Akheloios

    It says a lot about the human condition that most of the finest, most beautiful art comes from individuals that are tormented by their inner demons. You have to ask, if they were given the choice, would they have sold their genius to a wandering djinn in exchange for the pain being taken away?

    I don’t know, I’ve had problems in my life, I’ve experienced real pain, the loss of a bright future, mapped out in detail, because of accidents and illness. Would I go back and change things? Set my life back on its original path? I don’t think I would in the end, it would be like murdering myself. This is who I am, to change my life in the past, or sacrifice my experiences would be to kill my present self.

    I’m not completely happy with who I am, but who says that nothing but happiness leads to a full life? I’d have never started writing, or learned how much I adore ancient stories of heroes and the divine. I’d have never have come here :) or found this new side of me that I’m tentatively exploring now.

  • H.S. Wift

    I had a comment, but it wouldn’t post and I forgot what I wrote, but assume it was heartfelt and beautiful. Good post!

  • Anonymuncule

    As a dedicated experimenter with chemically induced escapism and frequent practitioner of dulling myself with spirits, I have to say the line about “voluntary numbing is a stalemate” really hits home.

  • Jae

    As ridiculously cliche as this sounds, I couldn’t help but think of the answer-all phrase, “Just reverse the polarity!” Taking negative energy/experiences and transcribing them into the writing art form has always been of immense relief for me. Not only does the action consolidate and release that pressure – like removing poison – but it also allows us to step back and view what we’re truly thinking and feeling from a new perspective, one we can learn from.

  • Tad Winslow

    I agree with you Jae. Writing of true experiences can put bad things at a distance— allowing them to exist somewhere other than just inside of your head. It’s a way of letting go. If you write bad memories onto a piece of paper those memories become tangible. They become a form that you can hold onto for a while and let fall into the fire when you choose to, and are ready. It helps me move on.

  • Tad Winslow

    I don’t think I’ve come across a more depressing yet beautifully unique and succinct expression as ‘regardless grown’. Wow— that really got to me. Great find, THX.

  • stargazer1960

    Emily’s poem looks very modern in it’s construction. I could do a rap version of it and connect to a lot of people.
    Came home from a funeral yesterday and it’s all too familiar that pain touches all of us.

  • InZanadee

    I have to say, my own personal brand of sanity hangs precariously by the proverbial thread but for the peace I achieve through purging with words. Being newly 40, physically discovering pain is becoming all too familiar. As for psychic pain…well let’s just say we are long acquainted. I have always LOVED Emily. What a treat to see today and in this context. Cheers!