In the first three verses of this poem, the repeated oppressive sounds progressively combine to torture the persona’s disembodied ear, of the fourth verse. There is a auditory focus to be seen in the relentless ‘treading’ of the mourners with their ‘boots of Lead’, the ‘beating’ of the Service and the ‘creaking’ of the coffin – the slow thumping rhythm continues in the tolling bell of the heavens. The isolated poet loses conventional reasoning to fall into chasms of desolation.
I felt a Funeral in my Brain,
and Mourners to and fro
Kept treading — treading — till it seemed Note the structure is identical with that of line 3 of the next verse
That Sense was breaking through —
And when they all were seated,
A Service, like a Drum — The simple device of this simile more than amply conveys the nature of incessant torment.
Kept beating — beating — till I thought
My Mind was going numb — The onomatopœic alternate-line rhyme serves to enhance the numbness
And then I heard them lift a box The poet does not even have ownership of her own coffin, either as a coffin, or her coffin – it is merely ‘a box‘….
And creak across my Soul but the sounds continue beyond troubling her mind to distress her very spirit with the archetypal, gothic sound of terror.
With those same Boots of Lead, again,
The space — began to toll, Funereal lexis
And all the Heavens were a Bell,
And Being, but an Ear, The poet’s passivity when presented with funereal sounds now becomes figurative in this synecdochal image.
And I, and Silence, some strange Race She and personified Silence …
Wrecked, solitary here — …. are shipwrecked on the alien shores of mortality.
And then a Plank in Reason, broke, The metaphorical floor of rationality terrifyingly gives way
And I dropped down, and down —
And hit a World, at every plunge,
And Finished knowing — then — This verse has the echoes of Keats’ ‘Negative Capability‘ which describes the state of experience which lies beyond that of reason. The irony is partly that once the poet has lost all rationality, she enters a state of ‘knowing’. The capitalised ‘Finished’ further enhances that irony: cognition is achieved because she continues to fall through infinite constructs. Incidentally, the death of Dickinson’s mother, twenty one years later, in 1882 seems to cause an understandable but uncharacteristic ‘irritable reaching for fact and reason’ (ref: Keats’ Negative Capability) when she writes to Elizabeth Holland, ‘Blow has followed blow, until the wondering terror of the Mind clutches at what is left.. ‘
This Commentary should be considered in conjunction with the analysis in my Dickinson main page.
MY OTHER PAGES ON EMILY DICKINSON’S WORK
Please go to the Dickinson tab for the drop-down menu on her poems A-Z or click on the following: