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"I Felt a Funeral in My Brain" By Emily Dickinson

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Jenny Lee

on 28 March 2014

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Transcript of "I Felt a Funeral in My Brain" By Emily Dickinson

Works Cited

Bennet, Paula. "On 280 ("I Felt a Funeral, in My Brain")." On 280 ("I Felt a

Funeral, in My Brain"). N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Mar. 2014.


Cameron, Sharon. "On 280 ("I Felt a Funeral, in My Brain")." On 280 ("I Felt a

Funeral, in My Brain"). N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Mar. 2014.


Napierkowsk, Marie Rose. "I Felt a Funeral, in My Brain." Poetry for Students:

Volume 13. Vol. 13. Detroit, MI: Gale Group, 2001. 135-48. Print.


N.d. Graphic. n.p. Web. 26 Mar 2014. <http://swc2.hccs.cc.tx.us>.


"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,

Our Interpretation
Supporting Critiques

Paula Bennett, author of Emily Dickinson, Woman Poet.
“In a series of poems beginning in the early 1860s, Dickinson describes what might best be called her fall from metaphysical grace and the epistemological impact this event had upon her." In these poems, Dickinson's confrontation with the abyss becomes the central metaphor for her vision of a world from which transcendent meaning has been withdrawn and in which, therefore, the speaker is free to reach any conclusion she wishes or, indeed, to reach no conclusion at all.
'I felt a Funeral, in my Brain,' c. 1862, is one such poem. On the surface, this poem is about death or, possibly, madness.
Whether it is death or insanity that opens up this vision to her, what the speaker realizes is that she is "utterly alone and totally free.”

Cynthia Griffin Wolff, author of the biography,
Emily Dickinson
.
Wolff recognizes the explicit emotional influence Dickinson imposes on her readers, and pushes those readers to sit down and think of this poem as an application to reality. The emotions from her poems arouse their psychological curiosity and pushes them to question "whether "life" and "death" are susceptible to understanding" (Napierkowsk 146). She and many other critiques applaud Dickinson for her acute insights onto the breakdown of the human mind.

Explications and Literary Devices
What the Poem Says
"I Felt a Funeral in My Brain” is about the speaker’s slow descent to insanity. It starts in a civilized manner, with a funeral, but as the poem progresses, the battle between sanity and insanity becomes more violent. The words and imagery become harsher; the poem starts off describing the “treading” of the mourners, but it soon progresses to a drum beating, then bells ringing, until at last, the “plank in reason” breaks. The sounds are a representation of the heartbeat of someone passing on. In this case, it would be the sanity of the speaker’s brain dying.
"I Felt a Funeral in My Brain" By Emily Dickinson
Presented By: Sian Condon and Jenny Lee


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 -
Emily Dickinson describes the death of her mind with a funeral. It is a metaphor that translates the slow and painful deterioration of her reasoning, her mental stability. In the poem, there is a drum that "kept beating and beating," making Dickinson's "mind [go] numb" similar to a corpse's inability to move. The mind itself is the corpse and as she "heard them lift the box" AKA her coffin, she could hear the bells toll. The sounds progress more menacingly and threateningly as the poem moves on towards her mental death. When her "Plank in reason, [breaks]" and her mind finally edges towards the brink of insanity, her reasoning begins to flush away, and her mind collapses until she dies. Dickinson's main themes are sanity and madness.
Stanza 1:
I felt a Funeral, in my Brain,
And Mourners to and fro
Kept treading - treading - till it seemed
That Sense was breaking through -

Explication: Dickinson uses symbolism to exhibit the first stages of the breakdown of her mental mind. She visualizes a funeral where the mourners are the primary events that cause her mind to crumble. They "kept treading - treading" without her taking notice of it until finally realization hits, and she notices these events are destroying her sanity(her mind).












Stanza 2:
And when they all were seated,
A Service, like a Drum -
Kept beating - beating - till I thought
My mind was going numb -

Explication: This is the next stage of the "funeral," where the auditory traits begin to personify Dickinson's progression towards insanity. Physically, her mind is described as becoming numb from the "beating" of the Drums. The physical numbing of her brain is similar to a corpse when it is paralyzed after death. Here, she contrasts a physical death of the body to the death of the mind. She utilizes metaphor of the funeral of a physical body to a funeral of her mind as a whole in the poem.

Stanza 3:
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,

Explication: Again the noises continue to dent Dickinson's mind. She hears them lift a box, it is her coffin. It makes "a creak across [her] soul" suggesting that the stringent noises took not only a toll on her mind, but her soul too. Imagery of the funeral scene itself is implemented here. There is also a bit of personification of the causes of Dickinson's insanity.

Stanza 4:
As all the Heavens were a Bell,
And Being, but an Ear,
And I, and Silence, some strange Race,
Wrecked, solitary, here -

Explication:
She can hear the bells of Heaven ringing, meaning the funeral is almost over and it’s time for her, or her brain in this case, to pass on, where Heaven is representing insanity. And once she reaches the lines of this Heaven, it will become silent, meaning the insanity has won. Until then, she “and Silence” are fighting to win in “some strange Race.” She is alone in her fight against silence and is slowly losing control.
Stanza 5:
And then a Plank in Reason, broke,
And I dropped down, and down -
And hit a World, at every plunge,
And Finished knowing - then -

Explication:The “Plank in Reason” acts as her stable, working mind; since it has broke; it means the insanity has won. From then on, it will only get worse for her and her mind as she “dropped down, and down” until she “hit a world”, rather than our known, comfortable world. Once she has reached this unknown world, she has finally broke down and her brain has “Finished knowing”; it can no longer try to fight insanity.
Contradicting Critiques
Sharon Cameron, author of
Choosing Not Choosing: Dickinson's Fascicle
“I have written elsewhere of this poem that it represents the making of a though unconscious (LT, pp. 96-98). The poem cannot represent a literal funeral, since people do not feel funerals, they attend them. They also do not feel funerals in the brain. Moreover, here the funeral seems to precede the death as well as the burial of the thing which is ceremonially presided over. Since what is in the brain that can be buried is a thought, the poem, I have argued, represents ambivalence about making a thought unconscious. Ambivalence is epitomized by the mourners, who could be understood to lament the burial of the thought, although, ultimately, in sitting for the ceremony, they also come to consent to it. Ambivalence is definitely underscored by the second of the variants and the variant grammar it gives the poem's final line (fig. 10, second manuscript page of "I felt a Funeral, in my Brain"). For that variant, written below and to the right of the word on the line, makes it unclear whether knowing is finished (there being no longer any knowing, but only unconsciousness), or whether what is "Got through—" is the experience of unconsciousness, which leaves "knowing" in its wake.”
Bibliography
Bennet, Paula. "On 280 ("I Felt a Funeral, in My Brain")." On 280 ("I Felt a Funeral, in My

Brain"). N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Mar. 2014.


Cameron, Sharon. "On 280 ("I Felt a Funeral, in My Brain")." On 280 ("I Felt a Funeral, in My

Brain"). N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Mar. 2014.


Ford, Karen. "On 280 ("I Felt a Funeral, in My Brain")." On 280 ("I Felt a Funeral, in My Brain").

N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Mar. 2014.


Guthrie, James R. "On 280 ("I Felt a Funeral, in My Brain")." On 280 ("I Felt a Funeral, in My

Brain"). N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Mar. 2014.


Napierkowsk, Marie Rose. "I Felt a Funeral, in My Brain." Poetry for Students: Volume 13. Vol.

13. Detroit, MI: Gale Group, 2001. 135-48. Print.


N.d. Graphic. n.p. Web. 26 Mar 2014. <http://swc2.hccs.cc.tx.us>.


Wolff, Cynthia Griffin. "On 280 ("I Felt a Funeral, in My Brain")." On 280 ("I Felt a Funeral, in

My Brain"). N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Mar. 2014.

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