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I felt a Funeral, in my Brain

by Emily Dickinson

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What is the tone and mood of "I felt a Funeral, in my Brain"?

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The tone and mood of Emily Dickinson's "I felt a Funeral, in my Brain" are bleak, desolate, and, as the poem progresses, increasingly mystical and uncontrolled.

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In "I felt a Funeral, in my Brain," Emily Dickinson uses the extended metaphor of a funeral service to describe her thoughts. The tone is bleak and desolate, as one might expect a funeral to be. The repetition of the words "treading" in the third line and "beating"...

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in the seventh reinforce a sense of monotony that becomes a form of torture, breaking down the poet's defenses and numbing her mind. In the third stanza the "Boots of Lead," ominously capitalized, add to the image of heavy footsteps treading across her psyche and leaving an unwelcome footprint.

This somber mood continues throughout the poem. However, it is increasingly accompanied by a sense of mysticism and even surreality. The images become stranger and more difficult to follow, with heaven described as a bell and being as an ear. In the final stanza the sense of alienation is heightened by insistent polysyndeton, creating the impression of one thing following another with nothing the poet can do to arrest her sudden descent:

And then a Plank in Reason, broke,
And I dropped down, and down -
And hit a World, at every plunge,
And Finished knowing - then -
The poet seems to lose control, falling into madness and never being able to tell the reader what she learned as she fell, finishing the poem on an inconclusive, mysterious note.
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What is the tone of each line of "I felt a Funeral, in my Brain"?

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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