I Felt a Funeral in My Brain
The Descent into Death in I Felt a Funeral, in My Brain
It is difficult to imagine how we will one day die and what we will undergo through this process but in Emily Dickinson’s poem “I felt a Funeral, in my Brain” (Dickinson 42), it encaptures the complexity of death beautifully in only 20 lines. Like the first line of the poem suggests, here she depicts a depicts a funeral that is occuring within the speaker’s head and an unsettling progression of events based on it. There are many possibilities to what Dickinson was attempting to convey within the poem, the process of physical death and loss of consciousness, the deterioration of the mind, or possibly the perspective of the deceased at their own funeral. But the overarching theme that unites these interpretations is the descent into death. Whether it is the death of the mind, body, or soul, Dickinson uses the image of a funeral as an apparatus to describe the phenomenon of death through an extended metaphor. Dickinson has formed a truly unique poem filled with symbolism that breaks the boundaries of what death embodies.
The funeral that is described in the first stanza suggests that the speaker has lost something but what exactly is not described. However, throughout the poem, as the funeral progresses, we get a closer understanding of what the speaker is going through. In the first part of the poem, consciousness is still present, “That Sense was breaking through-” (1) but then in the second stanza, “My mind was going numb-” (8). The speaker then loses their grasp on reality, “Then Space-began to toll,” (12) until they find themselves alone in silence and then the descent comes to a conclusion with the last stanza as “I dropped down and down–And hit a world at every plunge” (18-19). Whether it is physically or mentally, the speaker is deteriorating as the chaos of the funeral within their mind continues. What Dickinson does that makes the poem truly unique is her ambiguity and her union of the physical and mental. We do not know what the funeral is for and her constant transition between the physical, mental, and even spiritual when the speaker refers to themselves makes the poem even more puzzling. The “Mourners to and fro” (2) and their treading can represent the internal pain of the speaker or it can also represent the actual people who are paying their respects at the memorial service. The setting of the poem is up for speculation making the entirety of the poem open for different interpretations.
The Feelings of the Speaker in I Felt a Funeral, in My Brain
The poem “I felt a Funeral, in my Brain (340)” by the infamous Emily Dickinson suggests many topics such as entering a world of a psychotic episode, experiencing the death and/or burial of something within the mind, an explanation of the feeling of self obliteration, and the showing of feeling complete isolation and the fear and panic that lingers with it, but with such a poet like her, as well as poetry itself, the poem means something different to each person who dares to enter such a world.
The speaker seems to be suffering from psychosis as they seem to travel through different realms of their mind, and the poet doesn’t offer much information if any at all to the physical environment. Being sensible, emotionally intense, feeling isolated completely, as well as madness, all pertain to the persona of the poem, for the narrator explains very intricately this experience and how it’s going play by play while also showing the depth in it all. Though the narrator and poet have their own roles in poetry, the two are relatively the same in Dickinson’s “I felt a Funeral, in my Brain (340)”. In fact, Dickinson’s works often reflect her true self. As an excellent thinker, observant hawk, and in her own isolated world, you can really see Emily Dickinson through her poetry, that is, if you can comprehend it. She has gone through hell and back and tells us her tales of woe through her poetry. This poem in particular shows her more evolved side.
The third and fourth lines give the reader so much in those few words: Kept treading – treading – till it seemed That sense was breaking through. The beating pulse of her mind and thoughts shows the reader just how much is really going on in her head that a stranger on the street would not be able to see. The title of the poem — and the first line — gives the reader a little push through the door and to help them enter into the chaotic world of the speaker’s mind. In this twenty line, five stanza poem, a lot is going on. In stanzas 2-4, the rhyme scheme is ABCB, and the first and last stanza don’t have any type of rhyme scheme. There is a constant order of lines in each stanza which is four. The use of dashes between ideas both makes a point and separates ideas to make the reader take in all the things going simultaneously. In the first two stanzas, the third lines in Emily Dickinson’s poem “I felt a Funeral, in my Brain (340)” are the same and make a point at the beginning of the poem. “Kept treading – treading – till it seemed / That sense was breaking through” (lines 3-4) and ” Kept beating – beating – till I thought / My mind was going numb” (7-8) Enjambment runs throughout the majority of the poem even though there is no legitimate punctuation except for dashes between thoughts. In “I felt a Funeral, in my Brain, (340)”, it begins with a metaphor comparing the mental situation of the speaker with a funeral “I felt a Funeral, in my Brain,” (1). Though she may write some very intense poetry, Emily Dickinson sneaks in a little informality into the third and seventh lines with the word “till” “Kept treading – treading – till it seemed” (3) and “Kept beating – beating – till I thought” (7). The poet throws a lot at the reader with the scene. At first we’re at a funeral, and then we’re going more insane and losing consciousness at the same time.
Imagery is one of the key elements that Emily Dickinson uses to explain with detail what the heck is going on inside a chaotic mind. To tie it all up, she sprinkles personification throughout. In lines 6-7, the funeral service is explained as a drum beating. Line 12 tells how “space” “tolls” after being wrecked solitary with silence. Silence is said to be wrecked and as “some strange Race” with the speaker in lines 15-16. Towards the end of the poem, line 17 states how the speaker falls through the realms of their mind as this “Plank in Reason” breaks. This is perfect for a poem like this, for the concepts like comforting silence and pulsing beats of a funeral service couldn’t be explained better. The last line of the poem is ended with an off and a little ominous note “And Finished knowing – then -” (20). She has possibly reached full insanity and lost control of knowing what’s what.
There are many interpretations of the last line so not much can be said for sure. After reading through the poem and taking a long, meandering path through the speaker’s brain/mind, you can tell that it gives off an eerie, depressing, chaotic, and frenzied (if you will) vibe. Even in the first line, it shows it. Words like funeral, mourners, treading, numb, beating, sense, creak, soul, space, toll, heavens, solitary, silence, wrecked, and reason all give off the vibes listed above. In order to help the reader focus on what’s going on in this crazed poem, the poet uses a continuous plot up until the point where the speaker “Finished knowing” (20).
The poem starts off very straightforward and sets the serious mood with “I felt a Funeral, in my Brain,” (1). “And Mourners to and fro / Kept treading – treading – till it seemed / That Sense was breaking through” (2-4) Here, the mourners are pacing before the service starts as most would do at funerals. Their pacing is so loud that the narrator almost has the sense (reality) knocked back into them. Dickinson’s use of capitalization in her poetry makes a point and brings the reader to really think about what’s so important about a word capitalized that typically doesn’t need to be. As you can see, the word mourners and sense are both capitalized possibly as a focus point. “And when they all were seated, / A Service, like a Drum – / Kept beating – beating – / till I thought / My mind was going numb -” (5-8) Now the service is actually starting. The chaos in the brain is so pulsating like a drum, and everything that’s going on is getting overwhelming. In the previous stanza, Dickinson refers to the setting as her brain, but as things intensify, the sensation of the funeral becomes more mental as she now calls it her mind.
When she mentions the mind going numb, we now know that it’s too late. No returns. The door back to reality is now closed, and we’re going downhill. “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,” (9-12) The funeral is almost over now, and the box (casket) is being carried out to be buried. They “creak across” the soul, so they’re probably putting the dirt on top of the casket now unless she means that it’s sort of a mocking thing to do. Notice how the speaker recognizes the “Boots of Lead”, so this probably has happened more than once which explains how the speaker seems overpowered by this situation and mocked by the people.
The speaker is slowly losing their mind again. Space is beginning to toll, so it’s coming a little bit at a time. We’re now at the start of another realm that has even more twists and turns. “As all the Heavens were a Bell, / And Being, but an Ear, / And I, and Silence, some strange Race, / Wrecked, solitary, here -” (13-16) We’ve now reached the deepest part of the speaker’s mind. There’s nothing to hear except for the silence surrounding, and silence is the only thing to accompany her. She’s now comparing herself to silence stating they’re the same race and “Wrecked, solitary, here -“. We can only assume we are experiencing the depths of her mind as of now since she very vaguely explains that they are “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 -” (17-20) When this plank in reason breaks, it all goes down. As if the floor is sanity, it breaks and the speaker completely loses it. She keeps plummeting and hitting worlds as she descends into madness. The last line is very complicated to interpret. She may have passed out, made the last of a thought or part of herself (since this is a funeral we’re talking about), or might have reached the gates of insanity itself (and now she cannot make sense of anything anymore hence explaining how she finished knowing).
From the first line to the last in Emily Dickinson’s poem “I felt a Funeral, in my Brain, (340)”, I can feel my emotions pouring out as I speak her words. Sure, I have felt the emotions of this poem for years now, but when put in these words, I feel like it’s a whole new world. Emily Dickinson made me see emotions so vividly rather than feeling them first hand when I read this poem. Where has she been my whole life? Normally, I wouldn’t have compared my mind to a funeral, but reading this was a revelation in a sense. To me, the last stanza was the most powerful because of the deep plunge into wherever it is that the speaker imagines as insanity. Moreover, this poem is relatable, eerie, depressing, and crazy, and now it’s one of my favorites. Works CitedDickinson, Emily. “I felt a Funeral, in my Brain, (340)” Poetry Out Loud Website 2018 http://www.poetryoutloud.org/poems-and-performance/poems/detail/45706 Accessed 9 January 2018
Common Ideas in I Felt a Funeral, in My Brain and and We Stay
Poetry Cross Reference in And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard
“I felt a Funeral, in my Brain” by Emily Dickinson directly correlates with the novel And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard. First and foremost, throughout the novel, the main character, Emily Beam, is fascinated with, “Emily Dickinson, with her 1,775 poems…” (Hubbard 35). Emily is constantly comparing herself to Emily Dickinson and reading her works to get her mind off of her boyfriend’s suicide. Furthermore, towards the end of the novel, Emily’s friend, Amber, stole one of Dickinson’s old dresses from when she was a child and it was up to Emily Beam to restore it to the Dickinson household.
Aside from the fact that Emily Beam was infatuated with Dickinson and her works, “I felt a Funeral, in my Brain” directly correlates with the theme of the novel. Emily is trapped in a mental prison due to her boyfriend’s suicide in the school library. Everything she does constantly reminds her of Paul and their memories together. Throughout the story, Emily keeps divulging more and more of the terrible story, but ultimately comes to enlightenment and acceptance. In Dickinson’s poem, the narrator comes to accept their mental pain at the end when, “…I dropped down, and down-/…And Finished knowing – then -” (Dickinson 18-20). And We Stay was entirely based on the struggle to find acceptance of emotional pain, as was the poem; ergo both works are very similar in nature to each other.
In the novel, Paul Wagoner, Emily Beam’s boyfriend, shot himself in the stomach in the school library after Emily decided she was going to abort their baby. This same theme of death and finding the good in the bad can be applied to Dickinson’s poem. At the beginning of the poem, Dickinson, “…felt a Funeral, in my brain” (1). While in the novel, Paul’s death was not symbolic of pain but was the actual physical embodiment of it, the same aura of death irradiates from both works. The narrators are both searching for inner strength to accept the things that they know they cannot change. The search for strength is also a search for peace. The theme of finding peace in struggle can be applied to both of the works. In the novel, Emily Beam is trying to make amends with the fact that her boyfriend is gone and it is due to her ignorance of his feelings. In the poem, it is not clear what exactly the death is meant to represent, however the narrator is still struggling to find acceptance of it. Both the novel and the poem share common roots in the sense that both are battling against themselves to ultimately find peace in struggle. Life constantly tests your abilities to overcome various obstacles and challenges, and in the case of both of these works, life had gotten the best of them.
There is an internal struggle amongst Emily Beam and the narrator of the poem to find acceptance in the things they cannot change. Another theme of both of the works is that you need to overcome yourself to overcome your external problems. Not all things can easily be solved; due to this, you must first become a master of yourself to master your issues. Emily had to overcome her fear of people knowing about her emotions expressed through her poems to find acceptance of the suicide of her boyfriend. In the poem, the narrator had to learn to accept the ‘Funeral in their Brain’ in order to overcome their emotional pain.