I Felt a Funeral in My Brain
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I Felt a Funeral in My Brain (Comprehensive-Analysis)

Emily Dickinson wrote, I felt a Funeral in my Brain in 1861, the beginning of what is regarded as her most creative period. 

I Felt a Funeral in My Brain

I Felt a Funeral in My Brain

This intriguing poem presents a number of enigmas for the reader, like many of Emily Dickinson’s poems. In this article, it is our intention to offer a short summary and analysis of ‘I felt a Funeral, in My Brain’ and to try to clear away some of the obscurities and ambiguities.

The poem employs Dickinson’s characteristic use of metaphor and a rather experimental form to explore themes of madness, despair, and the irrational nature of the universe.

It is important for us to start with the poems before we go into ‘I Felt a Funeral in My Brain Analysis.

I Felt a Funeral in My Brain

I felt a Funeral, in my Brain,
And Mourners to and fro
Kept treading – treading – till it seemed
That Sense was breaking through –

And when they all were seated,
A Service, like a Drum –
Kept beating – beating – till I thought
My mind was going numb –

And then I heard them lift a Box
And creak across my Soul
With those same Boots of Lead, again,
Then Space – began to toll,

As all the Heavens were a Bell,
And Being, but an Ear,
And I, and Silence, some strange Race,
Wrecked, solitary, here –

And then a Plank in Reason, broke,
And I dropped down, and down –
And hit a World, at every plunge,
And Finished knowing – then –

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A Brief Summary of the Poem

The insistent repetition of ‘treading – treading’ evokes the hammering and turbulence within the speaker’s brain. These mourners sit down and the service takes place, featuring first a drum beating and then – following the creaking lift of the lid of a box – a sound that reminds the speaker of a bell.

Yet, as so often with an Emily Dickinson poem, the meaning is not – cannot – be as straightforward as this. The funeral suggests the loss of something, but is it reason and sanity that are lost, or is it reason and sanity that kill off something else? Who, or what is this ‘Funeral in my brain’ for? The poem withholds this information.

What’s more, a funeral is traditionally a solemn and sober affair, formal and orderly: more evocative of sensible reason than wild irrationality. If irrationality had broken through and taken over instead, wouldn’t we expect something more chaotic and disorderly to be going on than a funeral, with the mourners ‘seated’ and the mind going ‘numb’?

I Felt a Funeral, in My Brain Analysis

Stanza One

I felt a Funeral, In my Brain,
And Mourners to and fro
Kept treading-treading-till it seemed
That Sense was breaking through

Emily Dickinson, in this poem, writes everything through a keen sense of hearing. She hears all that is going on around her, and she feels it, but she cannot see it. First, she says that she felt a funeral in her brain.

The beginning of this poem is quite striking to the readers. Many people have been to a funeral, seen a funeral, or heard about a funeral. But this opening line causes the readers to wonder what it would be like to feel a funeral. Most can relate to some extent because they have felt grief and sorrow before.

The speaker describes the treading. She can hear and feel people walking “to and fro”. And for a moment, she thinks that maybe she will be able to understand what it is that she is experiencing.

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Stanza Two

And when they all were seated
A Service, like a Drum-
Kept beating- beating- till I thought
My Mind was going Numb-

When her surroundings finally quiet down, the speaker can feel the silence and knows that the Mourners have been seated for the funeral. This is when she hears the drum roll in her mind.

Again, “Drum” is capitalized here because it is as if it were a separate being, personified as the one bringing the bad news. And it kept beating until she thought she would lose consciousness altogether.

Her “Mind” like her “Brain” seems to exist as a separate being altogether. The word “Numb” is also capitalized to personify it as something that is taking over her mind.

Stanza Three

And then I heard them lift a Box
And creak across my Soul
With those same Boots of Lead, again
Then Space- began to toll,

The speaker’s sense of hearing and ability to feel is still the primary focus of ‘I felt a Funeral, in My Brain’, and she describes the sound of a box being lifted. “Box” is also capitalized to signify importance. The second line of this stanza signifies something important.

As the speaker hears a box being lifted, she also feels something “creak across [her] soul”. This hints that the funeral she has felt is actually her own. This is why she cannot see anything.

She can, however, feel it. And she is only partly conscious of what is going on around her. When the box is lifted, however, and she feels it, the readers can begin to understand that this is in fact, her own funeral. Perhaps the readers can understand this before the speaker herself is able to.

Stanza Four

As all the Heavens were a Bell,
And Being but an Ear.
And I, and Silence, some strange Race
Wrecked, solitary, here-

At this point in ‘I felt a Funeral, in my Brain’, it seems that the speaker is beginning to become aware of where she is and what is happening. She mentions Heaven and the possibility that it is ringing its bells for her, and she is only an “Ear” can hear heaven calling to her.

She cannot see what is going on around her, but she can hear and feel everything. And in this stanza, she begins to hear a metaphorical bell. The words “Bell” and “Ear” are capitalized, because she suggests that she herself has become nothing but an “Ear”. And the “Bell” is also a separate being, calling to her.

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Stanza Five

And then a Plank in Reason, broke,
And I dropped down, and down-
And hit a World, at every plunge,
And Finished knowing- then-

In this final stanza, the speaker becomes entirely aware of what has been happening to her. The funeral she felt in her brain, was her own. The coffin was her own. The “Boots of Lead” were those of her own pallbearers.

She is silent because she is dead. She is blind because her eyes have been closed in death. She can hear, and she can feel, but she is no longer a living, breathing human being.

This is the speaker’s terrifying description of death. In the first line of this stanza, she describes the “Plank” or piece of wood that broke as her coffin was lowered into the earth. She says that it broke in “Reason” because this is the moment when she became aware of what was actually happening.

The ambiguities aren’t simply a matter of difference in meaning, but of sheer opposition. Whose funeral is it anyway? Our analysis cannot answer that question. We welcome your thoughts on a truly troubling, but brilliant, poem.

And feel free to add your thoughts about the poem in the comment box below. Also, you are always free to share our articles with your Friends!

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