“I Felt a Funeral In My Brain”: Psychological State

How does Emily Dickinson try to describe a psychological state in her poem “I felt a Funeral in my Brain? ” Emily Dickson was born in 1830, in the town of Amherst, Massachusetts. She grew up in a prominent and prosperous household in which she was raised as a cultured Christian woman. The sixteenth centaury was a very historical period in America. During this time slavery had been abolished, women were campaigning for rights, gold was discovered and America was going through a depression. Transcendentalism was one of the most important movements of the time.
The poem “I felt a Funeral in my Brain” appears to convey the experience of a mind facing its own collapse. “Funeral in my Brain” is a metaphor for the death of the mind. Throughout the poem Dickinson expresses the idea of a breakdown which is both psychological and physical. The opening stanza presents the metaphor of a funeral that is used throughout the poem to convey the sense of a breakdown. “Brain” refers to both the concrete physical organ and to the abstract idea of the speaker’s mind; such dual meanings are used throughout the poem to convey the physical and mental effects of the breakdown.
The noun “Funeral” refers to the speakers psychological mind in which she feels like is slowly dying. The speaker is experiencing synaesthesia as well as feeling detached from her body and her thoughts, she is also having difficulty organising her thoughts. Both “Funeral” and “Brain” have capital letters which emphasise the importance of their impact and the theme throughout the poem. Both words are polar opposites as you wouldn’t relate your brain which is the most powerful and most important organ to that of a funeral which is related to death, sadness and sorrow.

This therefore implies that the speaker is experiencing a depression of the mind. The fact that the speaker “felt” a funeral in her brain suggests that the funeral is psychological instead of a physical event. The speaker expresses her feelings instead of delineating them. A funeral is also a religious event which is held in a place of worship. This illustrates the importance of religion during the 16th century and the impact it had on the lives of people during that period.
The second line of the stanza “And Mourners to and fro” is a metaphorical way of explaining her state of mind and expressing the pain in her mind it also suggests that the mourners could possibly be one of the reasons why the speaker is in a depression. “To and fro” means to move back and forth; the mourners may be stuck in her head as she is thinking about them, they are not leaving her mind, they continue to confuse her and disconnect her with her thoughts. Another interpretation could be that the mourners are trying to tell her something or try and make her aware. Mourners” refers to a group of people, this suggests that society may be against her and her beliefs; they are not allowing her to have a thought process but are trying to confuse her. A “mourner” is a person or persons in this case who expresse grief and sorrow while attending a funeral; which is in the speaker’s brain. In addition this links to the funeral in her brain it implies that she may have a headache from the “mourners” confusing her or by staying in her mind, they may be depressing her even more.
The speaker creates imagery by trying to express the funeral in her brain as a physical event instead of a psychological one. The speaker implies that she is actually attending a funeral, to her it seems real but to others it may suggest a sense of madness and loss of reality. In the third and fourth line of the first stanza Dickson uses a metaphor to describe and create imagery of the speakers mind. “Kept treading-treading- till it seemed that sense was breaking through” she uses a verb “treading” to emphasis the effect of the mourners.
The verb “treading “implies that the mourners are walking on, over or along her. They are trying to trample or crush her both physically and mentally. “Treading” is repeated through repetition to exaggerate what the mourners are doing to her. It indicates a pressure that is pushing her down. Treading is a harsh word, the fact that it’s repeated suggests that it’s ongoing; they are not stopping. The mourners may be treading so that the speaker begins to understand, they may be treading to bring out a sense of reality back in to her, they are trying to wake her up.
This links to the idea of sleep paralysis; she may be dreaming and not aware. Dickinson also uses alliteration to emphasis and enhances the word “treading”. “That sense was breaking through” this implies that the speaker is understanding what is going on , things are starting to make sense to her as the mourners were treading which sparked something in her brain to understand. On the other hand there are many different things which could be breaking through to her.
It may be that the mourners are pushing her to make sense or that she finally understood herself and her own sense and beliefs were sinking in. Her “sense” (or knowledge) of what is occurring begins “breaking through” to climax in some kind of understanding about her impending devastation. Like the word brain, which has two meanings, the word sense can also refer to the speaker’s physical senses, which are likewise affected by the mourners plaguing her mind. In addition I felt a cleaving in my mind compares to I felt a funeral in my brain in many ways.
The poet has been in a depression and unhealthy mental state. In the first stanza she feels like her brain is splitting and she is trying to gather herself but could not succeed. In comparison to the speaker in Dickinson poem “that sense was breaking through” She described her condition in simple clear words such as “cleaving, brain, seam by seam” just like Dickinson has delineated the speakers condition in words that everyone can relate to and understand such as “funeral, brain …” the poem is also similar to that of Dickinson’s because the speakers both experience a depression of the mind. I felt a funeral in my brain” and “I felt a cleaving in my mind” however the speaker feels a funeral in her brain and the other in her mind. Even though both are similar your brain is an organ whereas your mind is originated in your brain but is manifested in thought and emotion. On the other hand a psychological depression is possible in both your mind and brain. In the second stanza of Dickinson’s “ I felt a funeral in my brain” The mourners are all seated, representing a quiet moment, perhaps marking the end of the speaker’s initial panic or mental chaos.
However, the respite is short-lived, and the “Service, like a Drum” begins a fresh assault on both her physical senses and mind. The sound of the drum, like the treading of the mourners, is another attack on her sanity, an attack so fierce that she feels her mind “going numb. ” Numbness is a physical sensation that stands as another example of the speaker’s struggle to convey her experience in understandable physical terms. “A Service like a Drum” is a metaphor giving reference to the normalcy of everyday life that people went on living while she was falling apart and breaking down.
This line implies that her “funeral” is more like a performance rather than a religious gathering as a “drum” is not the usual instrument which is played at a funeral or a service. A drum is however an upbeat and continuous musical instrument. This may suggest that her headache is still there. “A service like a drum” also conveys military imagery since the mourners are all seated, no one is standing and a drum is on beat. This implies the idea of conformity during the sixteenth centaury. It also uggests that her “funeral service” was like any other, it was normal, nothing out of the ordinary occurred. This may also imply that the speaker feels tense as a drum makes a pressuring beat which is never ending. This refers to the first line “And they all were seated”. “They” conveys the idea that society was together and she was alone. This therefore gives reference to isolation. The speaker could have said “we” instead of “they” which portrays that the speaker was not part of their group and didn’t conform.
This implies that she had different views and beliefs to that of society which led to her being an outcast. Dickinson uses repetition when delineating the sound of the drum and her psychological state. “Kept beating-beating-till I thought my mind was going numb” This chips away at her mind until she can’t endure anymore so it goes numb. The word beating is also used as a homonym, being used as the verb beating in that it is not only the sound of the beating of the drum, but the beating down of a person. The “beating” goes on until she can endure no more until she “goes numb”.
It implies the psychological torture of her interaction with people and how it lost any meaning and just droned on an on in her mind, tormenting her in its absence of actual meaning. It was the psychological beating and the metaphor of beating like a drum, as well as the abuse that it felt like. The repetition of the verb “beating” emphasises the fact that the drum or in fact society won’t stop pressurising her and continues to feed information to her even though she doesn’t want to hear it. It also suggests that the service was very long as it kept “beating beating “.
The speaker is affected by the beating of the drum as her mind goes “numb” which suggests that her condition is deteriorating and the drum beat is fading into her mind. The beliefs of Society are starting to sink in to her head. The words “Drum” and “Numb” rhyme in the stanza which correlates the difference between them and implies that the drum makes her mind go numb. This second stanza is similar to that of I felt a cleaving in my mind, as in this stanza she tried to follow her thoughts and the thoughts before however it was out of sequence.
They were like “balls on the floor” slipping away, discrete, and incoherent and out of reach. This compares to that of her mind going “numb” because of the beating of the drum. In the third stanza of Dickinson’s poem the speaker implies that the “funeral” has to come to an end as “And then I heard them lift a box” suggests that her casket is being carried out to be put into her grave. This creates imagery as it leads to delineate her physiological state. “And creak across my soul” the word “soul” refers to a spiritual and religious state of mind. “Creak” leads us to think that the soul must be made of wood.
When the mourners lifted the coffin they tore at her soul as if the death of her mind was still not the end. The fact that they creaked across her soul suggests that they wanted there to be nothing left of her, implying that all that they had already done to her was not the end, but there was more suffering left even though she thought it was over. Dickinson uses a metaphor “creak across my soul” to portray the speaker as suffering even at her funeral. If you creak it implies that you are hiding something as you walk carefully. This links to “with those same boats of lead, again”.
Lead is a very heavy metal so the fact that the mourners are wearing boots of lead at her funeral and “creaking” across her soul suggest how un thoughtful they are and how much hate they have towards her as if you creak across someone soul with boots of lead you intend to crush them. The speaker implies that she has seen those boots of lead before “same” and “again” implies that the person who is wearing the boots was the one who caused her the pain and suffering that she experienced and has now come back at her “funeral” wearing the boots to remind her of everything that happened; like a flashback.
The fact that the person creaked across her soul in boots of lead is peculiar as when you creak you walk slowly, trying not to get caught. But if you creak while wearing boots of lead which is a heavy metal it’s like you know what you’re doing , the person may have wanted to slowly creak across her soul to remind of her of her past. The last line of the stanza “Then space-began to toll” implies that after they have walked across the speaker’s soul, “Space” begins to “toll” like a bell. Church bells often toll at the end of a service, so we’re in religious territory.
She imagines that her mind or soul is like an entire universe containing a vast empty space. With their departure, the world around her rings out with sound, almost chaotically, with no sense or reason, as there is no longer a functioning mind to make sense of all the noise. The speaker begins to understand that this is really it for her. The fourth stanza continues the ending of the third stanza. All existence has been transformed to an “ear,” The ringing bell of heaven both symbolizes church bells ringing for the death of her sanity and the random noises and sounds f the world around her. She can no longer make sense of reality; it exists completely in the forms of sensations, intense sounds, without a mind to bring order to it all. Although the poem is surreal throughout, it grows more and more surreal as it progresses echoing the loss of her sanity. While she is left alone with the silence inside her mind because at this point her mind is for the most part gone, with only a little bit left; she no longer has racing thoughts because her brain has separated from the world. The “Space” from line 12 turns into the “Heavens” that ring like a bell.
Dickinson has zoomed out from the funeral scene. “Being” is a generic term for existence. We say “human beings,” for example, to refer to human existence. If being is an ear, that makes us into passive receivers of the noise of the universe. We can’t control what we hear. The tolling of the bell is a repetitive sound that reminds us of the “treading–treading” of the first stanza or the “beating–beating” of the second. Dickinson refers to “if all the heavens were a bell” which suggests that the speaker thinks that heaven is calling out for her to come, ringing for her through the sound of a bell. And being but an ear” implies that she can only hear but cannot respond, so the heavens are ringing for her and she can hear them only. The speaker may feel as if the church bells are ringing inside her head. This creates religious imagery as “Heaven” relates to religion. “And I and silence, some strange race, wrecked solitary here” the speaker suggests that all she has is silence and herself which implies that she feels isolated. She feels as if “silence” is her only companion and she feels united with silence.
The speaker emphasises her isolation by describing herself and the other race as “wrecked solitary, here” telling us that there is no hope for her or others like her, that are broken or alone. The “Silence” can also be another reference to her isolation with its implication of separation from the rest of the world. While they are described as an “ear” she is trapped alone in silence. This would make her (the silent one) useless to everyone else (the ear). Further, the implication is that she does not need communication with others; with the “ear” seem to rely on, it is something that they share from which she is excluded.
The speaker thinks that she and Silence belong to the same “Race,” or type of individual. We don’t know why Silence would be in a world filled with the sound of a bell, but Silence is the negative side of sound. Both the speaker and Silence are passive and empty. In the last stanza it turns out she did have a little bit of reason left. The plank of reason breaks like rotting wood and she plunges deeper and deeper into insanity, allowing her to view the world multiple times through the eyes of madness her insanity allows her to see multiple worlds, not visible to the sane.
Dickinson twists our notions about insanity with her last line. Only through madness can we truly know the world as it is. However, since you’re mad there is no way you can communicate this knowledge to others, hence the ambiguity of the last line; she knows all about the world, thanks to her madness she is able to see it from new perspectives, but since she is mad there is no way to communicate this information intelligibly to others who aren’t mad. “And then a plank in reason broke” this implies that she may have fallen through the cracks of religion, standing on a plank that is rooting.
This suggests the hypocracy behind religion as religion is seen as pure and the answer to everything especially during the sixteenth centaury. This can also be interpreted as her logic or common sense disintegrated; she lost touch with reality and her own sense of reason. Dickinson uses a metaphor to portray her loss with reality “and then a plank in reason broke”. “And I dropped down, and down, And hit a world at every plunge”  She falls past “worlds,” which may stand for her past; in any case, she is losing her connections to reality.
Her descent is described as “plunges,” suggesting the speed and force of her fall into psychological chaos. She hit a “world” the speaker doesn’t specifically say what world she hit but it does suggest her psychological state deteriorating. The word “And” is used at the beginning of every line in this final stanza, giving further rhythm to the descent. The fact that she hit a world at every plunge also suggests the speed and force of her fall into psychological chaos and the fact that her life flashes before her life. At the end of her fall, or at least the end of the poem, she “Finished knowing. It makes sense for someone who has lost their power of reason or intelligence to not be able to know things anymore.
The last word of the poem, “then–,” does not finish or end her experience but leaves open the door for the nightmare-horror of madness. The meter of the poem is in the classical ballad meter style of Dickinson, and gives the poem a sombre tone. The ABDB rhyme scheme carries us through the poem until the use of slant rhyme wakes us up in the last stanza. The poem is structured with 4 lines for every stanza. The themes of the poem are in capitals in every line of every stanza. I, Funeral, Brain, Mourners, Kept, Sense” etc. Dickinson uses many dashes and comas in this poem. In conclusion, Dickinson tries to describe a psychological state in her poem “I felt a funeral in my Brian “through the language she uses such as metaphors and the structure of her stanzas which include punctuation. The funeral in her brain symbolizes the end of one state of conscious and way of thinking about the world to be replaced by a newer state of being which is impacted through the period of time and the way religion influenced her.

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