top of page

B. Penn

341: After great pain, a formal feeling comes –

Looking at Emily Dickinson's relationship with her mother (who experienced some of her life as an invalid and was passive by nature), Dickinson recognized that her mother was not as available to her in ways she might have been. 

In installation 341: After great pain, a formal feeling comes – the artist questions the relationship of 'the maternal and culture', more specifically, a parent's role in helping the child or young adult to engage one's emotions in order to assist them in becoming a 'fully realized' social being. The artist is thinking of the mother/daughter relationship of today, along with Victorian traditions of child rearing.  

In the installation," the maternal" paper breast forms loom 'at a distance' over the crib. The crib houses altered symbols signifying 'developmental stages of life's journey' using eggs, nests and antlers, with fabric, wax and thread, placed on multiple chalkboards. Chalkboards mean 'learning', and many chalkboards suggest the learning curve necessitated over time for the child who is distanced from the mother. The installation also suggests a pathway to a spiritual transformation that might take place in response to nurture's distance or absence. 

Dickinson's poem speaks to the power of transformation one can amass to come out of difficulty, absence or loss. Emotion can freeze one up, but when time realigns with emotions' true purpose—recovering self again, it can find release "– then the letting go –".


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 –

c. 1862                                                    1929

by Emily Dickinson
from The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson 
edited by Thomas H. Johnson

bottom of page