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.
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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 […]