abstract illustration of a coffin, forest, and clouds with the ouline of a human face superimposed on everything

I felt a Funeral, in my Brain

by Emily Dickinson

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What is the meaning of the phrase "I felt a Funeral, in my Brain"?

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This is a curious poem that can often be hard to interpret in terms of its meaning. However, it appears that this poem traces the various stages of some kind of mental breakdown, using the imagery of a funeral to describe those stages.

The lyric begins by establishing the basic proposition of the poem: the speaker has had some kind of mental experience which is likened to the events of a funeral - a psychological death becomes merged with a physical death:

I felt a Funeral, in my Bran,

And Mourners to and fro

Kept treading - treading - till it seemd

That Sense was breaking through -

In the speaker's mind, the mourners seem to be walking up and down, perhaps paying their last respects to the dead person lying in the coffin. They are then seated and the funeral service begins. Once this stage of the service is complete, the coffin is lifted and taken to the graveyard while the church bell tolls. The coffin is placed on planks set over the grave and then one of the planks breaks and the coffin drops down into the grave:

And then a Plank in Reason, broke,

And I dropped down, and down -

And hit a World, at every plunge,

And Finished knowing - then -

Critics argue that this final stanza suggests the mind's final plunge into the abyss of despair or depression.

Although we are never told precisely what triggered these effects, it is clear that the funeral imagery serve to give concrete form to abstract feelings. The much-debated last stanza does obviously indicate some final descent, but some critics argue that this represents the complete loss of all thought, understanding and knowledge. Others argue that after breaking through the bounds of reason the speaker finishes by retaining or learning something, as indicated by the open dash. Either way, this poem traces some form of mental breakdown through using the stages of the funeral ritual to chart the gradual disintegration of the speaker's senses.

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What was the author trying to say when she wrote "I felt a Funeral, in my Brain"?

Dickinson basically uses the metaphor of a funeral to describe the speaker's growing confusion as she loses mental control.  The word "funeral," of course, has a strong connotation with the finality of death; as the speaker directly  compares what is happening in her mind to a funeral, the reader understands that the speaker feels as though she is going crazy, slipping into a world of darkness.  The ominous mention of the mourners who "lift a box and creak across my soul" describes the speaker's feeling that she feels trapped in her mind in the same way that someone would feel if they were in a casket buried alive.  By the end of the last stanza of the poem, the tone becomes one of terror:

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

Occasionally, this last stanza is omitted in some published versions of the poem, but the imagery of falling "down and down" finalizes the speaker's feeling of madness as the "plank in reason, broke," leaving her to fall into chaos and complete insanity. 

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