Analysis of Emily Dickinson’s Poem “I Felt a Funeral in my Brain”

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Updated: Apr 30, 2024
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Poems allow individuals to express their various thoughts and emotions that brew within their minds, condensed into a few simple stanzas. Through the use of wordplays, forms, and meters, they are able to convey those messages that normal conversations are unable to or do not allow. From this was one of the greatest poets ever known in American Literature, Emily Dickinson, each one showcasing her eccentric and enigmatic style that held little regard for the accepted norm, frequently delving into the taboo.

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In particular, “I felt a Funeral in my Brain” is a grim and morbid poem that focuses on death and the descent into madness as reality and rationality slip further into the abyss.

The poem title, which is the opening into the first stanza, “I felt a funeral, in my brain,” starts with the idea of a funeral. Normally, a funeral is most associated with a death of a person or as a representation of an end. Therefore, in the metaphorical sense, the funeral is instead alluding to the state of the narrator’s mind, in particular, the sane and rational self. Additionally, at this funeral, there is a mention of “mourners to and fro” followed by a repetition of “treading.”

These mourners are, in actuality, a representation of what is plaguing the narrator’s mind, and these issues are constantly there, wearing them down to the point where the “sense was breaking through.” The sense is the sanity of the narrator. Identically, in the second stanza, the repetition of “beating” invokes a similar feeling to “treading,” one of a slow erosion of the mind as time goes by. Thus, this is the beginning of the narrator’s lunacy as the ceremony progress.

In the third stanza, the box is being lifted by the “same Boots of Lead, again,” which creates a “creak across my soul.” Those boots were referencing the mourners who “tread” in the beginning, while the creak indicates the increasing spread of the insanity within themselves, almost engulfing the narrator. This creates a sense of urgency and signals the end is nearing. Furthering this is when the “Space- began to toll.”

The noise of a toll within a funeral usually marks the death of the deceased as they pass from the world of the living to the world of the dead. Comparatively, the toll ringing in the poem signifies the narrator’s transition from a semi-rational state to one of chaos and distortion, as shown in the fourth stanza, becoming far more abstract than previously shown. For example, the use of metaphors has made heaven into a bell, while a being is just merely an ear. Additionally, within this state, the narrator finds themselves “wrecked, solitary,” stuck in a situation that is completely divergent from the normal, so much so they are all alone in it. The narrator is reaching their limit.

The fifth stanza is the conclusion of the narrator’s struggle as the “Plank in Reason broke.” This image of a plank to indicate the narrator’s sanity showed just how flimsy and delicate it had become over the span of the poem, as a plank is not a sturdy foundation to be on. They could no longer hold on. Consequently, the narrator plummets straight into madness as they “dropped down, and down,” further into the pit with each ‘hit a world, at every plunge.” There is no end in sight with each “hit,” the narrator believes that they could no longer go any further down this abyss of madness.

But sadly, they are mistaken as they continually find themselves one step deeper into this lunacy, only stopping when they have “finished knowing.” At this point, the narrator no longer even knows how to convey the current state of their mind as their mental state has been utterly shattered. Neither does the narrator know if this is truly the end for themselves since the poem itself does not end with a period. Instead, the end of the poem uses a mere dash. The dash shows an ambiguity in the whole situation. Either the narrator’s situation is finally over, or they are still ever falling into the abyss with no way out.

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Analysis of Emily Dickinson’s Poem “I Felt a Funeral in My Brain”. (2023, Mar 31). Retrieved from