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‘I felt a Funeral in my Brain’ by Emily Dickinson is a short poem that is jam-packed with powerful thoughts and images. The speaker explores the idea of what it could be like to remain conscious after death in this disturbing poetry. The readers can imagine themselves there in her place, experiencing their own deaths in full consciousness because of the detailed depiction of her sense of hearing. According to some literary experts, this poem doesn’t describe the speaker’s actual bodily demise but rather the demise of a part of her that she was unable to hold onto.
About the poet
One of America’s greatest and most creative poets of all time is Emily Dickinson. She claimed definition as her domain and contested the established definitions of poetry and the task of the poet. Like writers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Walt Whitman, she experimented with expression in order to free it from customary limitations. She created a novel kind of first-person identity, much like authors like Charlotte Bronte and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Like the characters in Bronte’s and Browning’s works, the speakers in Dickinson’s poems are keen observers who notice the unavoidable constraints of their societies as well as their imagined and hypothetical escapes. Dickinson developed a distinctly elliptical language for her writing in order to describe what was possible but still unrealized. She did this in order to make the abstract tangible, to define meaning without limiting it, and to inhabit a house that never became a prison.
The poem explores themes of lunacy, despair, and the irrational nature of the cosmos using Dickinson’s signature use of metaphor and a somewhat experimental structure. Dickinson paints an unsettling sequence of activities centered on a “funeral” that takes place inside the speaker. The poem progressively moves outside of the speaker’s head to explore cosmic secrets, to which there is only silence as a response.
I felt a funeral in my brain, And mourners, to and fro, Kept treading, treading, till it seemed That sense was breaking through.
In this poem, Emily Dickinson uses her acute hearing sense to write every word. Although she cannot see what is going on around her, she can hear and feel it. She first claims that a funeral was felt in her head. The reader is immediately struck by this poem’s opening. A lot of people have attended, witnessed, or heard about funerals. However, this first paragraph makes readers ponder what it must be like to experience a funeral. Because they have previously experienced sadness and sorrow, the majority can connect to some extent. However, as Dickinson continues to describe the sounds and feelings she experiences, the readers soon become aware that this is not a normal feeling of sorrow or grief that comes from loss. This is something different, and entirely personal.
The treading is described by the speaker. People walking “to and fro” can be heard and felt by her. And for a brief period, she imagines that she might be able to comprehend what she is going through. She claims that she believes “sense was breaking through” because of this. When Dickinson wants to personify a word, she capitalizes it as if it were a proper noun, a real person. The Funeral is capitalized because it seems as though she is encountering a distinct being. The word “Brain” is also capitalized since, in this experience, it nearly seems as though her own brain exists independently of her. Of course, the “Mourners” are humans, therefore a correct capitalization is appropriate for them.
And when they all were seated, A service like a drum Kept beating, beating, till I thought My mind was going numb.
The speaker senses the hush as her environment eventually comes to a stop and realizes that the mourners have taken their seats for the burial. When the drum roll starts, she mentally hears it. Again, “Drum” is capitalized because it appears to be a distinct entity here, personified as the bearer of bad news. She felt she would completely lose consciousness as it continued to thump. Like her “Brain,” her “Mind” appears to be an entirely distinct entity. The term “Numb” is also capitalized to give it the appearance of someone or something controlling her thoughts.
And then I heard them lift a box, And creak across my soul With those same boots of lead, Then space began to toll
The core concerns of “I felt a Funeral, in my Brain” remain in the speaker’s hearing and feeling, and she recalls the sound of a box being lifted. Additionally capitalized to emphasize its significance is “Box.” This stanza’s second line conveys an essential message. The speaker also experiences a “creak over [her] soul” when she hears a box being lifted. This may be a clue that she has been experiencing her own funeral. She cannot see anything because of this. But she can sense it. Additionally, she is only partially aware of what is happening around her. The readers can start to realize that this is actually her funeral when the box is lifted and she feels it. It’s possible that the listeners will comprehend this before the speaker herself does.
She is being transported in her coffin to her final resting place in the third line of this verse. And the people carrying her there make a sound similar to “Boots of Lead.” Once more, “Boots” and “Lead” are capitalized because it sounds as if they are taking her to her final resting place. The “Space- started to toll,” according to the last line of this lyric. The speaker is aware of her own motion in space. She cannot see what is going on, but she can hear the sound of the boots on the ground.
As all the heavens were a bell, And Being but an ear, And I and silence some strange race, Wrecked, solitary, here.
It appears that the speaker is starting to realize where she is and what is going on at this point in “I felt a Funeral, in my Brain.” The idea that Heaven might be ringing its bells for her and that she, as an “Ear,” can hear it, is brought up by the speaker. Although she is blind, she can hear and feel everything going on around her. She also starts to hear a bell that is allegorical in this stanza. Because she implies that she has only become an “Ear,” the words “Bell” and “Ear” are capitalized. Additionally, the “Bell” is a distinct entity that calls to her.
The speaker acknowledges that she has changed into something odd in the third line. She is no longer a member of the human race. She claims that she has changed into “some odd Race” for this reason. Because silence is personified as something that envelops her, hangs over her, and prevents her from speaking, the term “Silence” is capitalized. She has become a “weird Race,” a race that is not human, as a result of this. She becomes conscious of being alone herself. She is desolate and by herself. She describes herself as “Wrecked” and “solitary” because of this.
And then a plank in reason, broke, And I dropped down and down-- And hit a world at every plunge, And finished knowing--then—
The speaker fully understands what has been occurring to her in this last stanza. Her own funeral was the one she mentally experienced. Her own coffin was used. Her own pallbearers wore the “Boots of Lead.” Because she is dead, she is mute. She is blind because her eyes have been closed in death. She is no longer a living, breathing human being, yet she can hear and feel. The speaker gives a horrifying account of dying in this passage. She mentions the “Plank” or piece of wood that broke as her coffin was lowered into the ground in the opening line of this poem.
The speaker fully comprehends what has been occurring to her by the time she reaches this last stanza. It was her own funeral that she mentally experienced. She owned the casket. Her own pallbearers were the ones wearing the “Boots of Lead.” She’s not speaking because she’s dead. She is blind since her eyes have been closed in death. She still has the ability to feel and hear, but she is no longer a living, breathing person. This is how the speaker describes death in its most dreadful form. The “Plank” or piece of wood that broke when her coffin was lowered into the ground is described by the poet in the opening line of this stanza.
The speaker doesn’t go into detail about the meaning or content of the worlds she encountered as she was being lowered into her grave, but she does say that as she descended all the way to the bottom, she fully realized that she was dead.