I felt a funeral in my brain is a poem that is easily interpreted as being the death of an old self for a new idea. The imagery of the ritualistic aspects of a funeral’s form is very different from the chaos of rebirth, and applies itself well. The poem takes us through the beginning of a funeral to the abrupt end, where the poem stops mid-sentence to leave you with the impression of-
I felt a Funeral in my Brain,
And Mourners to and fro
Kept treading- treading- till it seemed
That Sense was breaking through- (Dickinson 114)
Funeral is used here to present a stark contrast between the orderly ritual of death and the chaotic embrace of a poignant and tumultuous new idea that alters the self to a great extent. The mourners represent the pain- the grieving process of the death of a former self. The “treading- treading-” of the mourners is reminiscent of the sensation experienced during a moment of epiphany; your heart seems to beat loudly in your ears, slowly building up pressure in your head. She places this side by side with the thought of a “sense” breaking through the chaos; a possible reprive. The capitalization is used as emphasis on the words “Funeral” and “Mourners” to remind you of the form they follow; the components of the ritual. “Brain” is capitalized because it is the location of the poem and thusly needs emphasis, while “Sense” is emphasised as the source of reprise. Is sense the common form, or the sense of the idea and death of self?
And when they all were seated,
A Service, like a Drum-
Kept beating- beating- till I thought
My mind was going numb- (Dickinson 114)
Here we see the last line of the first stanza brought to fruition; the mourners seated is that reprive provided. Alas, that ritual begins once more; loud and piercing. The repetition of the dashes in the same lines serves to emphasis the sensation of the emotion pounding in one’s head. Once more the pressure of change builds, “beating- beating-” until the mind shuts itself down, numb with the overload of emotion. This is the mind’s best defense against the onslaught of change. The capitalized words in this stanza are few; “Service” and “Drum”. Service is emphasized once more to remind you of the ritualistic aspects, and Drum is to nail in that sense of pounding, treading, beating.
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, (Dickinson 114)
The box is symbolic of death– the death of oneself to be reborn. This is always traumatic and it has to be a change that reaches the depths of a person’s soul or it is not truly change. The “boots of lead” are in that third line once more, reminding of the constant deep-toned beat that is building up the pressure. If one looks at the last line of the first two stanzas, you will notice a pattern emerges– one of silence and temporary peace from the pressure. This line changes that; the Space of that silence is consumed by the tolling.
As all the Heavens were a Bell,
And Being, but an Ear,
And I, and Silence, some strange Race
Wrecked, solitary, here- (Dickinson 114)
The church bell’s ringing signifies the end of the funeral and the beginning of burial. The ringing consumes the self; it is almost as if all that remains is an ear that hears the deep tone. The silence and the old self are trapped in this place; wrecked and alone. Silence is a poor companion. The “Heavens” are the expected end for humanity, but what if that’s not a real place? “Silence” is emphasized because it is lonely; it is a trap of its own. “Race” is capitalized to further emphasize the difference between the mind and the silence.
And then a Plank in Reason, broke,
And I dropped down, and down-
And hit a World, at every plunge,
And Finished knowing- then- (Dickinson 114)
This first line is obscure; is the plank in reason the former self? The last tenuous thought that was keeping one from the brink of complete break down? This is it, dropping down and down into the depths of the new self. At every level the self is changed, and by every change the world around is changed as well. For how we view the world is affected by who we become. Finally reaching the end, the discovery is abrupt. The words “Plank” and “Reason” are capitalized because these items are narrow and easily broken. “World” and “Finished” are as well, but more for emphasis than anything.
I really enjoy the affect of the irregular capitalization and line breaks. It places emphasis where needed and lends to an unusual reading that encourages thought. This is one of my personal favorites of Dickinson’s works. Perhaps because I know all too well the feeling of a funeral in my brain.
Dickinson, Emily. I felt a Funeral, in my Brain. American Literature: Beginnings to 1900. Ed. John Bryant. N.p.: Pearson Custom Publishing, 2009.114. Print.
Melani, Lilia. “Emily Dickinson: The Inner World.” . Brooklyn College, 2010. Web. 15 Nov. 2010. .
Pettinger, T. “Emily Dickinson Biography.” Biography Online. N.p., June 2006. Web. 15 Nov. 2010. .