Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)
Through the funeral symbols, Emily Dickinson has concertized the experience of the sick mind obsessed with its approaching disintegration. In her use of symbols and evolving images through them and in finally communicating the experience, Emily Dickinson was unwittingly a forerunner of modern symbolist movement in poetry.
Some ineffable experience of the madding mind is described through the images drawn from funeral ceremony. There is no real funeral involved here. But all emotions associated with a funeral are felt in the mind of the speaker. Possibly a picture of sad, slow marching funeral procession is evoked in her mind. The Pall bearers and mourners are described as treading. The whole ceremony takes place in the theatre of the speaker’s mind. By the oppressive weight of the treading mourners, the sense of the speaker experiences a break-up of her rational faculties. This is the initial experience of the disintegrating mind.
When the mourners were seated there was a drum heard, perhaps, as a part of the ceremony. Like the tread of the mourners in the first stanza, the heavy beat of the drums and the sadness evoked by them are unbearably oppressive that the speaker now begins to feel that her mind is becoming numb. The incessant beating of the drum (suggested by the repetition of the beating) has nearly benumbed the speaker's mind. This is the second stage of the dying of the rational faculty of the speaker.
The third and final part of the funeral is burial. This stanza uses symbols drawn from the burial process. In this stanza the air of approaching lunacy is thickened. To an already insufferable weight of the mourners' tread and the drum beat, a box and boots of lead are added. The boots of lead also suggest the numbness or dullness of the soul. With the box and boots of lead cracking 'across my soul' the speaker's mind has begun to crack, that is, the sanity of the speaker's mind is being buried by the pall-bearers. The disintegration of the mind is nearly complete. Till now the entire action ceremony has taken place in the brain of the speaker. Now the reference to 'space and its 'toll' suggests that the theatre of action is the external world. The outside world seems to toll the death bells.
In a stroke of fancy, the speaker imagines the space as tolling the bell and that the Heavens themselves are acting like bells. The heavens are like a huge bell and the space is tolling the bell. The speaker's physical being is one gigantic ear listening to the toll of the bell. With the toll of the bell the speaker's rational faculties are buried; there is total lunacy now. In the midst of the sounds of the bell there is no place for silence. Silence is alienated from the world of noise as much as the speaker is alienated from the world of rational beings.
One of the versions of the poem has the following four lines as concluding stanza:
And then a plank in reason, broke,
And I dropped down, and down
And bit a world, at every plunge,
And got through knowing—then—
The presence of this stanza does not make any substantial difference in the interpretation of the poem, On the contrary it strengthens our approach to the poem. The plank stands for a kind of scaffolding across the open grave. Like all these things, the plank (Reason) is broken by the weight of the mourners’ drum beats and boots of lead and creaking box. That completes the disintegration of the speaker's mind "then", speaker plunges into the condition of lunacy. The final word, then looks grotesquely inappropriate here. But then the incoherence and disorderliness of speech are an indication of the total disintegration, which the speaker has experienced.
The use of funeral as a metaphor symbolically stands for the death of rationality. Funeral directly implies death and also a formal event where rules and procedures are counted. The strict rules and regulations in funeral ironically shows the gap between the situation of sanity and insanity. In insanity there is no control and rationality is threatened. Funeral is a process of moving from life to death that is parallel to the speaker’s moving from sanity to insanity. The speaker is not actually observing the funeral, but feeling it and being a part of it.
Shrestha, Roma. "I felt a Funeral, in my Brain by Emily Dickinson: Summary and Analysis." BachelorandMaster, 8 Jan. 2018, bachelorandmaster.com/britishandamericanpoetry/i-felt-a-funeral-in-my-brain-summary-analysis.html.