Imagery in I Felt a Funeral in my Brain by Emily Dickinson

February 15, 2021 by Essay Writer


Emily Dickinson’s, I Felt a Funeral in my Brain is an extremely somber poem which portrays a person who is going insane. The general overview of the poem is that there is a funeral being taken place in her brain. There is a funeral service going on, with mourners pacing back and forth. She describes the loud sounds she hears going on during the service. By the end of the funeral, she begins to imagine an empty world and her mind begins to fall down, ending with us not knowing what happened next. Dickinson’s poem is complex and is hard to grasp at first glance. To make it easier to understand the poem it needs to be analyzed and thought out.


The meter of Dickinson’s poem is iambic, which means it consists of a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable. Every other line has six syllables per line, which the other lines have around eight syllables. The rhythm of the poem is all over the place with no clear rhyme scheme. The only consistent rhythm is that the poem opens and closes with slant rhymes. Slant rhymes are rhymes that have similar words but not identical sounds. Most slant rhymes are from words with identical consonants and different vowels, or even the other way around. For example, in the second and fourth line of the first stanza, Dickinson uses the words “fro” and “though.” These words sound similar but don’t actually rhyme.

Showing Importance of the Message

Dickinson also uses line breaks and dashes within her poem to stress what she is trying to portray. She adds dashes to give her control of the narrative and the rhythm of the poem. An example of this is in line 7, “Kept beating — beating — till I thought”, is what Dickinson writes. The dashes play a major role in the format of the poem and give the reader guidelines of when to pause and emphasizes the flow of the poem. The use of repetition and capitalization is also used a lot throughout the poem to show importance and enhance what she is trying to tell the reader. Personification is also another effect of capitalization in this poem. Capitalization makes lifeless words into living things.


The perspective of the poem comes from Dickinson herself, as the speaker. She is describing what is going on in her mind, without tangibly seeing it but feeling and imaging it. It shows her fast descent into madness which leads to ultimate darkness. It is a petrifying poem for both the speaker, as well as the reader. The speaker experiences the loss of self in the mayhem of the unconsciousness, and the reader experiences the speaker’s descending into madness and her feeling of going insane.


Metaphors are a massive factor in understanding the meaning of this poem. Dickinson uses metaphors to illustrate how she is feeling by comparing physical things to arbitrary ideas. The funeral represents the speaker’s feeling that she is dying and the reason she feels this unconsciousness. This is a simpler metaphor because funerals usually connotate to death. The funeral here marks the passage of the state of life to the state of death, as well from sanity to insanity, for the speaker. The speaker is both viewing the funereal while actively participating in it, showing that the “Self” is divided, ultimately shattering into pieces by the end of the poem and creating chaos. The whole funeral in the poem is a metaphor for the various stages of her mental breakdown.

Other metaphors in the poem include the mourners. The mourners express the pain the speaker is feeling. In lines 3 and 4, the speaker shares that the mourners are “treading — treading — till it seemed that Sense was breaking through —”. This is the pressure that is pushing the speaker down into this downward spiral. There is a slight moment where she feels “Sense” breaking through but then in the second stanza, she feels the pressure again. The “Box” mentioned in the third stanza is referring to a casket and the “Boots of Lead” is the loud noise she repeatedly hears. The “Reason” is the floor of her mind which breaks, causing her to fall. The “Worlds” she is referring to in the final stanza are metaphors to her past life experiences and memories that flood her mind as she is descending into madness.


The poem ends in an unknowing manner. The reader doesn’t know what ultimately happens to the speaker. The poem ends off with, “And Finished knowing—then—.” Then what? Is she dead? Was it real or was it all just a dream? Dickinson leaves it up to the reader’s imagination to decide how the story ends.

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