E Emily Dickinson

I felt a Funeral, in my Brain by Emily Dickinson

‘I felt a Funeral, in my Brain’ by Emily Dickinson is a popular poem. In it, she depicts a very unusual idea of life after death.

While ‘I felt a Funeral, in my Brain could certainly be viewed as someone who is experiencing her own death, it is also possible that the death that has taken place in the poem is a metaphor for the death of the speaker’s sanity. It is possible that the speaker means to communicate that she feels she is losing part of herself, and that part of herself is her sanity, her reason, and her ability to think clearly.

 

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 –

In this interpretation, the “Mourners” in the first stanza are those around her that have noticed the changes that have happened and have mourned for her. Also in this stanza, the “Sense” that was breaking through could mean that her own sensibility was breaking free from her, and leaving her with no sanity. Therefore, she is becoming aware that she is losing a part of herself, and she has no control over it. She knows that she is losing her sense and that she herself is one of those who mourn over the loss of herself, but she also realizes that just as she would have no control over her own death, she does not have any control over keeping her sanity. It is dying, whether she likes it or not.

 

Stanza Two

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

In the second stanza, the drum-roll could simply describe the way she felt as she was losing her sanity. The roll of the drums made her feel crazy, and the incessant beating will not allow her to think clearly. The beating continued to go on and on until she felt her mind going numb.

 

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,

In this metaphorical interpretation, the third stanza would represent the death of the speaker’s sanity, as symbolized by the coffin as it “creaks across [her] soul”. The Boots of Lead would still symbolize the pallbearers, but instead of carrying the speaker herself to the graveyard, they carry her sanity.

 

Stanza Four

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

In the fourth stanza, this interpretation signifies that her sanity is entirely gone. She feels she is nothing but an ear, and she lives in silence. The reason she is “some strange Race” is that without her sanity, she can no longer interact with other human beings. Rather than being a normal human being with all of her senses, she is now a human being only partly rational, and with only one sense, which is her hearing. She can no longer taste or see or touch, but can only hear what is going on around her, as though she were a silent observer, unable to actually take part in the human experience.

 

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 the final stanza of this poem, this interpretation of the speaker’s loss of sanity is derived from the idea of her Reason being represented as a plank that broke. When her reason finally broke down, as a broken plank, she is lowered into the metaphorical grave, destined to live out the rest of her days without her sanity. That part of her died and was buried, never again to be resurrected.

 

Emily Dickinson Background

Emily Dickinson was well-known for her eerie poems, often written about death. Dickinson was in person as intensely introspective as are her poems. Her writing correspondent, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, after visiting her in 1870, told his wife, “I was never with someone who drained my nerve power so much” (Higginson). Only a few of Dickinson’s poems were published in her lifetime. She did not seek publicity and actually took great pains to keep her life separate from society. She did appear to be obsessed with the idea of death, as many of her poems centered around the idea. However, there is also evidence that her differences caused her to question her own sanity at times. Therefore, both interpretations presented here are supported by the evidence of the author’s life experiences.

Works Cited:

Read the first analysis again

We enjoyed this poem from Emily Dickinson so much, we made two of our team of poetry experts analyze it, to provide two different interpretations.
Read the first analysis

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About
Allisa graduated with a degree in Secondary Education and English and taught World Literature and Composition at the high school level. She has always enjoyed writing, reading, and analysing literature.
  • Ramkishan says:

    Please make a critical analysis
    Than students are get benifit it’s….

    • Lee-James Bovey says:

      Although we try to make sure that our articles appeal to a broad range of audiences we do feel that we are a helpful resource for students. In fact, as an English teacher, I often use the site as a resource for my students.

  • Pallavi Srikanth says:

    This is my best friend’s favourite poem, and I wanted to learn more about it. This explanation allowed me to do exactly that, so thank you so much! I’m going to talk to her about it at school tomorrow 🙂

    • Lee-James Bovey says:

      What a lovely comment. I’m really pleased to see poetry bringing people together.

  • Chantelle says:

    I felt this poem was about mental illness and getting to grips with reality

    • Lee-James Bovey says:

      I think you may have a point Dickinson is famed for being a recluse and almost certainly suffered poor mental health. I think her issues permeated and informed most of her poetry.

    • Lee-James Bovey says:

      What area would you like us to cover more in depth?

  • Amir Hasanpour says:

    As being a through and easy-to-understand explanation, but it was just that; an explanation not an interpretation. For instance it does not tell us why the poet is trying to illustrate and draw such a picture. But again great user-friendly explanation, thanks.

    • Lee-James Bovey says:

      That’s not always clear, even with context this can be difficult with poets who passed away some time ago, even the well-known ones.

  • I found this very helpful and quite insightful; thank you.

    • Lee-James Bovey says:

      Why thank you good sir!

    • Lee-James Bovey says:

      Thanks for the feedback.

  • This is a simplistic evaluation of the poem and I really enjoyed it. It also helped my understanding of the poem better that when I first read it. Thank you.

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