Dickinson’s poetic world is permeated with pain and suffering and the struggle of evade, face, overcome and wrest meaning from it or growing from it. Suffering is central to her poetic faith and it is involved in the creative processes as well. It is part of her ambivalent response to the mysteries of time and nature.
Love deprivation lies behind many of her poems. ‘Renunciation is a piercing virtue’ deals with the theme of her abandoning the hope of a beloved person. However she is less visible here than in some of her poems where a lover is visible and is not clear about the final meaning of her painful experience.
Some of her poems seal with childhood deprivation. In them she is explicit about the source of her suffering but they are less powerful than her general treatment of suffering. ‘pain has an element of blank’ is one of her poems in which her anguish goes on indefinitely. It is a timeless suffering, mental rather than physical. ‘After great pain a formal feeling comes’ is Dickinson’s most popular poem about suffering and one of her greatest poems. The pain is psychological here and there is no real damage to the body and no pursuit of healing.
Some of Dickinson’s poems about poetry and art reflect her belief that suffering is necessary for creativity.
Poems on love and on nature suggest that suffering will lead to a fulfillment of love or that the fatality which she feels present in nature elevates her and sharpens her sensibility.
Pain and suffering are to Dickinson the very expression of eternity. The infinity of human suffering is bought out in mystical terms in the poem ‘pain –has an element of blank.’ Pain is a consummate experience which paves the way for heaven. In ‘the hallowing of pain’ the poet says that heaven is not achieved by one who labors in the midway that is half heartedly but he reaches heaven who tries with utmost pain to reach there. The road to heaven is covered with hurdles of pain.
Dickinson believes that the happiest experiences of life become more vivid and picturesque and therefore more memorable when they are seen from the vantage point and suffering and anguish.
Dickinson was a great poet of pain and suffering and growth and spiritual regeneration through them. Her poetic feelings of such emotions are intense though they are sometimes hidden beneath the garb of rhetorical figures.