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 a possible thematic statement for Emily Dickinson's "I felt a Funeral, in my Brain"?

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Let's address what you asked us here and not try and teach you everything we know about E.D. 

You ask what is a possible thesis statement about this poem?

Well, I can make up a few but in order for you to believe it, you must develop it yourself by asking a few questions:

     What comes to my mind when I (the reader) reads this poem out loud?  Death, reality, being trapped, questioning the reality of heaven, her soul? You have to find what it is you get out of this poem as a reader, then write a statement about that and use the text within the poem to support your statement. 

     For example:  "It is clear that this poem addresses Emily's fear of death, but more importantly it addresses her fear of not being accepted into heaven." 

     Now, if I were going to use this compound thesis, I would need to prove the statements by showing my own translation of E.D. word choices, meanings, and imagery. Because E.D. offers ambiguity in her poetry, it is up to the reader to offer different interpretations for others to consider. Use your imagination to climb into the poem and seem what others may not have yet seen! This is the beauty of poetry. Good luck. 

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Given the fact that many of Emily Dickinson's poems are characterized more by ambiguity than anything else, it is possible, perhaps likely, that the subject of ED's poem "I felt a funeral in my Brain" (ca. 1861) is her fear of the loss of reason.

The funeral metaphor may indicate that Dickinson feels--as her hold on reason becomes tenuous--that her loss of reason called for a formal funeral ceremony, and then, beginning in Stanza 3, the mourners essentially buried her reason:

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. . . . (ll.19-22)

It is as if the mourners--actually Dickinson's own consciousness--take her reason from the church to the burying ground.  She explicitly acknowledges the departure of her mourners and her incredible loneliness in the third stanza when she says

And I, in Silence, some Strange Race/Wrecked, solitary, here--

Whatever hold on reason she has at the poem's beginning, that hold seems to slip away by the fourth stanza.

Using the image of a coffin being let down into the grave, Dickinson's reason appears to be lost:

And then a Plank in Reason, broke,/And I dropped down, and down -/And hit a World, at every plunge,/And Finished knowing. . . . (ll.17-20)

At this point, one has to conclude that Dickinson believes she no longer has the faculty of reason--she is, in effect, "finished knowing."  But, as is also characteristic of Dickinson, the last word in the poem adds an important ambiguity:  "And Finished knowing--then--.  Clearly, the addition of the word then may indicate that reason is not quite dead.  For Dickinson, hope is always the "thing with feathers," and the last line here indicates that the finality of reason's demise might not actually be final.

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The theme of Emily Dickinson's 'I Felt A Funeral In My Brain' seems to be invasion, an incursion into what should be the most private sanctuary of all - our mind. She seems to deeply resent this intrusion onto her perception of whatever it is - she doesn't tell us what the thoughts are, other than to explain that the burial service in her brain is unwelcome and that all the participants are trespassers on her private space, her inner sanctum.

Emily Dickinson was quite reclusive and it may be that she found that she could not escape totally from the things that bothered her and that society, philosophy, religion and mundane life always came crashing in when she was trying to think - or maybe, write poetry. The funeral she mentions seems odd - almost as if it has military overtones such as the beating of a drum so it could be the idea of two factions warring - one treading on the other. She maybe cannot make up her mind (she moves on to that word later) and wishes both sides would just go away and leave her in peace but they don't until at the end, she almost seems to be driven mad by it. We can imaging her being driven to distraction until she falls down dead into a coffin herself.

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