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
I felt a Funeral, in my Brain,And Mourners to and froKept treading – treading – till it seemedThat 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.
And when they all were seated,A Service, like a Drum –Kept beating – beating – till I thoughtMy 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.
And then I heard them lift a BoxAnd creak across my SoulWith 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.
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.
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.
- Higginson, Thomas Wentworth. “American Literature, Volume I (Penguin Academics Series).” American Literature, Volume I (Penguin Academics Series). Pearson, n.d. Web. 31 Mar. 2016.