Something that we have kept saying, again and again, is that no other poet has the power to give structure to emotion with such eloquence as Emily Dickinson, and the poem I Felt a Funeral in My Brain is a testament to that.
Dickinson has the ability to connect the graspable and material with something abstract and imaginative. But the subject poem of the article has something more in it.
I Felt a Funeral in My Brain is about the descent of a human’s mind and thinking abilities to the bottom. It is the poetic expression of a horrible experience when a person loses sanity.
The metaphor Dickinson has chosen to describe this fall is brilliant. Let’s take a look at the poem and then at the meaning, analysis, and simplification of the poem to better understand the poem and relate to it.
I felt a Funeral, in my Brain by Emily Dickinson
I felt a Funeral, in my Brain, And Mourners to and fro Kept treading - treading - till it seemed That Sense was breaking through - And when they all were seated, A Service, like a Drum - Kept beating - beating - till I thought My mind was going numb - 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, As all the Heavens were a Bell, And Being, but an Ear, And I, and Silence, some strange Race, Wrecked, solitary, 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 -
I felt the loss of something in my mind and thoughts and emotions kept rushing here and there So did the pain of losing this thing I felt that sense and logic will break down as well. And when for a moment there was some calmness I felt the beating of a drum It was the heartbeat that kept getting intense And I thought my mind was going numb But then the rush and chaos began again This time it was heavier and the pain was more intense Everything felt more difficult to bear And I heard a toll It felt as if the entire world around was a bell And I had nothing but only ears And silence around me, nobody else Doomed to listen to this toll of the bell Until something broke in my mind and I felt like falling down Kept falling through all my faculties and reason Until I lost track of what was happening and then…
Meaning and Analysis of the Poem
Emily Dickinson has presented the feeling of a traumatic effect in the most beautiful way. She has compared the feeling of experiencing trauma to that of a funeral. An internal funeral for the death of sanity.
When someone experiences something so traumatic that they lose their sanity, a funeral occurs in their head, a symbolic funeral. Let’s take a look at the analysis of the poem stanza by stanza.
I felt a Funeral, in my Brain,
And Mourners to and fro
Kept treading – treading – till it seemed
That Sense was breaking through –
Something had happened to the person who felt this “funeral.” But the only thing they could make out was the incessant commotion of the “mourners.” Who are these mourners?
These mourners are the thoughts, fears, feelings, and trepidations that come when something stressful or traumatic occurs.
You cannot understand exactly what you are thinking or feeling, but feel that something bad is happening in your mind. No single emotion is discernible, but the collective feeling is chaos.
And when they all were seated,
A Service, like a Drum –
Kept beating – beating – till I thought
My mind was going numb –
After the traumatic event settles down, there is a moment of calm. A moment when your mind is so tired of the chaos and emotion that it turns numb. The thoughts take a seat.
But you still feel your heart beating, and these beats are like that of a drum, getting faster and louder after every consecutive beat. Finally, the mind goes numb.
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,
Now when someone feels that the funeral is about to end, they feel “creaks.” These creaks show that their mind cannot take the effects of the trauma anymore. It cannot hold the weight of the “mourners.”
The creaks then turn into the tolls of a bell.
As all the Heavens were a Bell,
And Being, but an Ear,
And I, and Silence, some strange Race,
Wrecked, solitary, here –
The toll of the bells started coming from all around the sky. It is as if the skies have turned into a bell. This feeling signifies the loss of sanity. The unbearable effect of the trauma starts to kick in.
Not just the skies have turned into a bell, but the person has no sense other than just hearing. The person feels like they can only hear, all alone in silence. That is what their mind breaks.
And then a Plank in Reason, broke,
And I dropped down, and down –
And hit a World, at every plunge,
And Finished knowing – then –
“A plank in reason broke” signifies the breaking of the structure of the mind and the loss of sanity. They drop down and down, falling somewhere even they do not know.
Every time they fall, they feel like they are losing a world. Every level is a world that they have known, but they keep going down and down until they lose track of knowing what is happening or where they are.
Finally, the poem ends with the word “then” which means that the poet was going to tell more about this funeral but has lost sanity and understanding. The poet has reached a void with barely any knowledge.
The Ideas, Message, and Theme of the Poem
The poem “I felt a Funeral, in my Brain” is about madness, about losing sanity, and how the person feels until they stop feeling anything.
The mind can only take so much until it throws the towel. But what happens when the trauma just refuses to go away? The person breaks mentally and descends into madness.
Dickinson is saying that madness is the comfortable place where the restless soul finds peace. To the same, it is madness. But to the troubled, it is comfort.
That is the theme of the poem and the way Dickinson has used a funeral to symbolize the death of sanity fits perfectly with the theme and the message of the poem.
Notice that at first, the mind tries to prevent the effects of the trauma by going numb. And it can work in many cases when people tend to just push the trauma aside and close it off in a void.
But when the trauma is too much to bear and there is no other way of managing it, the mind breaks and the person falls.
The final two lines are also worth noting. It says that the person keeps falling and hits the world at every plunge. This line shows that the person is losing touch with the world.
These “worlds” are the intellectual world, the reasoning world, the emotional world, and the social world. You lose touch with all the worlds and end up in a void.
About the Poet
Emily Dickinson has had her fair share of traumas and tragedy which is the reason why she is so eloquent in describing something so complicated so easily.
From seeing the deaths of multiple loved ones to being locked in one place for the rest of her life, it was only writing these magnificent pieces of poetry that kept her mind busy and avoided her from hearing the “toll of bells.”
Here are some other similar poems by Emily Dickinson that you would like to read if you enjoyed reading this poem.
That’s not the end of this article, if you want it. Take a look at these great poems by Emily Dickinson and their meanings and carry on reading great poetry.