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In the first line we are surprised that the funeral is ‘felt’ rather than experienced, and this creates a tone of depression or a terminal view of the imagination coming to an end. The second and third lines show no peace in this ‘death’ with the mourners repetitive ‘treading’ which seems to add pressure to this catastrophic brain event. ‘Sense… breaking through’ in the fourth line implies that despite the funeral metaphor it may not mean a death, that there is hope of resurrection from this torpid state.
The second stanza continues the tone of desperate tension in that the beating sounds suggest a pulse, or a regular life rhythm that has not yet been thwarted despite the ‘Service’ – the process of the funeral and acknowledging the death – continuing. The poem has been said to be connected to a mental breakdown, but here we may interpret hope; that not all is lost at this point.
The contrast of being part of the funeral and yet experiencing sensation in the third stanza shows that the narrator is not yet departed the physical world –
And then I heard them lift a Box
And creak across my Soul
She is cut off from the mourners, but experiencing still. There is an exciting contrast in the death not being literal, but being experienced as if it were so.
There is obvious isolation in the fourth stanza as the narrator is ‘solitary’ in ‘silence’ as Dickinson uses the synecdoche of the bell to approximate all sound, which the narrator is cut off from.
The final stanza has been interpreted as the point of mental breakdown-
And then a Plank in Reason, broke,
However, as the narrator does not fall into an abyss, or the fires of hell, but –
hit a World, at every plunge,
I feel that she is not leaving the human world, but entering it. She is catapulted not out of the world but into it. Dickinson was quite a recluse, and felt human contact more keenly and sensitively than most. I feel she is emerging into the world rather than out of it. The incomplete final line
And Finished knowing—then—
Marks the unknown, the future of life, which perhaps doers not have the comforts of the clear rituals of death that the narrator can adhere to. The future is uncertain, unwritten and unknown. There is both excitement and trepidation in these lines.
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