I Felt A Funeral, In My Brain: Poem - Summary and Analysis

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I Felt A Funeral, In My Brain

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,
And Service, like a Drum-
Kept beating - beating till I thought
My Mind was going numb -

And then I heard them lift a Box
A creak across my Soul
With those same Boots of Lead, again,
Then Space - began to toll,

As all the Heaven were a Bell,
And Being, but an Ear,
And I, Silence, some strange Race
Wrecked, solitary, here

And then a Plank in Reason, broke,
And dropped down, and down-
And hit a World, at every plunge,
And Finished knowing-then-

I felt a Funeral, in my Brain, And Mourners to and fro Kept treading - treading - till it seemed That Sense was breaking through -
I felt a Funeral in my Brain


      The speaker feels that her mind throbbing until' it seemed, that sense breaking through. 'The repetition', 'treading-treading' and 'beating-beating', suggests that the same old thoughts have been running through her mind time and again. The funeral imagery that dominates the poem further shows that the mind is numbed with dead meanings. It has become the graveyard of thought. The box further suggests confinement and enclosure, However, release is in sight: 'Then Space began to toll'. Her senses are crumbled and she is precipitated into the presence of pure space and pure sound. It is a place empty of human 'sense', without form, attributes or qualities perceptible to the human. Temporarily overwhelmed by tne loss of a sense of significance, she is feels almost 'wrecked' and 'solitary'.

      The last stanza shows an Alice in Wonderland fall from significance. A 'Plank in Reason' breaks, indicating that the basis on which she had built her world has collapsed. She drops 'down, and down' and as she falls she hits other worlds, a salutary reminder that her articulation of the world was not the only one. While chillingly disconcerting, the experience is not necessarily final. She is simply finished with knowing'. 'Unknowing' has begun. In this fall from meaning the speaker experiences the fear of being unable to signify., unable to find words to fit experience. In such moments, the burden of language is lifted and there is an influx of power: All things swept sole away \ This- is- immensity.

Critically Analysis

Dramatisation of Mental Anguish:

      I felt a Funeral, in my Brain is a dramatization of mental anguish leading to psychic disintegration and a final sinking into a protective numbness. In this poem, the whole psychological drama is described as it were a funeral. This funeral is a symbol of an intense suffering that threatens to destroy the speaker's life but at last only her present, unbearable consciousness. The poem shows no hints about the causes of her suffering, The formal and treading mourners probably represent self-accusation strong enough to drive the speaker towards madness. But she is slow in getting there. The service continues, the coffin-like box symbolizes the death of the accused self that can no longer endure torment. Now the whole universe is like a church, with its heavens a bell. Unable to escape from her terrifying consciousness, she feels as if only she and the universe exist. This condition is closed to madness, a loss of self that comes when one's relationship to people and nature feels broken, and individuality becomes a burden. At last, the desired numbness arrives. Reason, the ability to think and know, breaks down, and she plunges into an abyss. The words she strikes as she descends are her past experiences, both those she would want to hold onto and those that burden her with pain. Then she loses consciousness and is presumably at some kind of peace.

      The funeral in her brain need not have anything that it refers to in the outside world. She is implying that there are orders of consciousness that are simply necessary, in the way that human beings act out loss and death and so on and ritually acknowledge things, wordlessly. It is intrinsic, in that it is something that everyone experiences as subjective, that it is meaningful to describe as isolated subject of experience. A mental experience that she is describing through the analogy of the funeral. At the same time that is very much conditioned by the experience of funerals.

Social Relevance:

      Dickinson presents an artistic blending of the conventional and unconventional in this poem. She talks about things that are conventional in the sense that they are emblematic also - they are deeply significant human behaviour. They are embedded in the world. This vision of reality exposes human solitude to the vastest available order of being. It is both the beauty and terror of it.

Picture of Disintegration:

      The collapse of religious, political, and epistemological order is 'felt and mourned internally as a 'Funeral' in the 'Brain'.

Arts and Languages:

      The poem's regular rhythms work well with their insistent ritual, and the repeated trochaic words 'treading-treading' and 'beating-beating' oppose the iambic meter, adding a rocking quality. Dickinson is also not choosing how particular words are to be read. Consider the last line of the poem: 'And Finished knowing -then-', where it is ambiguous whether knowing is finished or whether the experience which prevents knowing is finished. The poem presents no specific situation apart from the language then serves merely to convey or even interpret. Dickinson often transferred the characteristics of death and dying to conditions of emotional arrest in this poem. The poet left out much in this poem that her readers want to know: things like what condition the speaker actually describes, how she got there, and how she emerged. But she concentrated her expressive gifts on the sensations of mental extremely themselves, thereby distilling the anguish, the numbness, and the horror.

Explanation with Reference to Context:

All the heavens were a Bell,
And being, but an Ear,
And I, and Silence, some strange Race
Wrecked, solitary, here-

      These lines from the poem 'I felt a Funeral, in my Brain' depict the terrible state of the mind of the speaker. She seems to have reached the dead end of her life. She is fast heading towards death on account of her unbearable torment.

      She visualizes the whole universe as a church, with its heavens a bell. Unable to escape from the terrifying consciousness, she feels as if only she and the universe exist. Her senses are scrambled and she is face to face with pure space and pure sound. It is a place devoid of human characteristics or identity. She feels totally isolated and wrecked in this unfamiliar and mysterious environment.

And then a plank in reason, broke,
And I dropped down, and down
And hit a World, at every plunge,
And Finishing knowing-then-

      These lines form the concluding phase of the poem 'I felt a Funeral, in my brain'. The very basis of the speaker's world has finally collapsed due to the unresolved conflicts threatening her mind. At last, the desired dumbness arrives. This cripples her power of reasoning and she finally breaks down and plunges into an abyss. She is now unable to signify, unable to articulate her feeling into words. Finally, she loses her consciousness and is presumably at some kind of peace.


      'I' - the speaker. 'Funeral' - symbol of an intense suffering. 'To and fro' - hither and thither. 'Treading' - moving slowly. 'Sense' - consciousness. 'Breaking through' - collapse or shatter. 'numb' - cold. 'Box' - Coffin box. Symbol of the death of the accused self. 'Creak' - sound like that of an unoiled door-hinger. 'Toll' - ring. 'Heavens' - skies. 'Wrecked' - destroyed. 'Solitary' - lonely. 'Dropped down' - collapsed. 'plunge' - dive or fall. Plank of reason basis of her contention. 'Knowing' seeing with certainty, understanding clearly, having a clear and certain perception of truth or fact.

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