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I Felt A Funeral In My Brain: An Analysis

Updated on January 14, 2014

A Woman in Revolt

There are times in life when it seems as if the world has nothing for us. In these dark times we have lost our interest in life and we feel that life has most certainly lost interest in us. These are not times of joy nor are they strictly of despair. This boredom with living in general, and the melancholy that arrives with such boredom is universal and a breeding ground for bleak thoughts. The doldrums, for the rich or poor, old or young, male or female, is a place of grey, it is universal because there is no solution, the dull puts the rest of our lives in sharper contrast. Emily Dickinson, in her poem “I Felt A Funeral In My Brain” explores this foggy grey world. In her boredom she is no longer with the living around her, in her house, with their their busy lives. And neither does she have the rest that comes with death. Through a steady rhythm and mourning language she delves into a mind, removed from this world. In such a brief work of poetry, a reality that goes largely unexposed is illuminated. In the great tales of adventure that enthrall, a reader is thrown from moments of overwhelming joy to times of heart wrenching despair. In her piece, Dickinson brings to light feelings that we all have, that are much more true to life, that the adventurer and the homebody have in common; Dickinson shows us the grey inbetween the black and white.

The way the poem is read, the flow of its rhyme scheme, ABCB in the first four stanzas, create a consistency that contributes to the poem’s overall meaning, its numbing feel. Short stanzas and a steady stream of end rhymes creates a comfort for the reader, there is no challenge in its flow, reading is like breathing. To promote this feeling of melancholy and despondence, the poem is structured so that while a reader takes in the words and make their way through the piece, they are able to lose themselves in its cadence. It is when the fifth stanza hits that the reader and the speaker in the poem are shaken out of this purgatory. “And then a plank in reason, broke/And I dropped down and down” at this moment the speaker is broken from their own spell and the hypnotizing effect of the rhyme scheme breaks as well. As the speaker is dragged back into the waking world, they drag the reader back with them.

The bleak language of the poem creates the image, though not in vivid colour, of a funeral. How colorful should a funeral really be? As Emily Dickinson sits in her room with nothing but silence and her own heartbeat to accompany her “service like a drum/

Kept beating, beating,” she does not see a bright world of colour around her and so we as readers are not meant to either. The poet, in the third stanza, gives a window to how they actually feel. While we know of this funeral occurring internally, it can be easily mistaken for deep despair and tragedy. It is in the third stanza that Dickinson clarifies her position in a sort of purgatory and makes clear that although she may be in limbo it is indeed hellish. Heaven is a bell and Being is an ear, the poet says, and removed from all that, the poet and silence are alone, not part of either. We notice that while it is clear the poet and silence are “solitary” in a separate category from the dead, Heaven, and the living, Being, the metaphor of bell and ear is symbolic in their symbiosis; both could be said to abhor silence. While the bell gives and the ear receives, silence is left without a place, and so too is our poet. The final stanza shakes the reader and the poet out of what becomes a sort of trance. It ends open, “ then” the poet finishes, as if in mid-sentence; and if we are to read the poem over, the end fits with the beginning. The poem is a loop of numbing comfort and abrupt awakening; both the words on paper and the life of the poet.


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