I felt a Funeral, in my Brain,
And Mourners to and fro
Kept treading — treading — till it seemed
That Sense was breaking through —
And when they all were seated,
A Service, like a Drum —
Kept beating — beating — till I thought
My mind was going numb —
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,
As all the Heavens were a Bell,
And Being, but an Ear,
And I, and Silence, some strange Race,
Wrecked, solitary, here —
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 POEMS OF EMILY DICKINSON: VARIORUM EDITION, edited by Ralph W. Franklin, Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Copyright © 1998 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Copyright © renewed 1979, 1983 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Copyright © 1914, 1918, 1919, 1924, 1929, 1930, 1932, 1935, 1937, 1942 by Martha Dickinson Bianchi. Copyright © 1952, 1957, 1958,1963, 1965 by Mary L. Hampson.
- What’s the mood of the speaker? Does it shift before the poem ends? Where?
- How does sound appear throughout the poem? What are your associations with drums? What about bells?
- There are different interpretations of what is happening in this poem — what’s your take? Do you think the experience the speaker describes sounds terrible or exciting?
- In what ways is this poem about a connection to something mysterious? In what ways does it seem to be about the rupture of connection?
- Do you think this poem says more about death or life?
- Where would you pause if you were reciting this poem? What tone would you use, and where might you change the tone?
- Imagine what it might feel like for your consciousness to be disconnected from your body — what would that feel like? And what would it feel like to return abruptly to everyday life? Write a short poem about this imagined experience. Think about the sound and rhythm of the words you choose.
Here’s a peppy video about Emily Dickinson:
Here’s a six-minute breakdown on the poem by a prof online who calls this a “ceremony of transformation”: