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I Felt a Funeral in My Brain(1861)

Emily Dickinson

I felt a Funeral, in my Brain,
MeterI felt a Funeral, in my Brain,
And Mourners to and fro
MeterAnd Mourners to and fro
Kept treading- treading- till it seemed
MeterKept treading- treading- till it seemed
That Sense was breaking through-
MeterThat Sense was breaking through-

And when they all were seated,
MeterAnd when they all were seated,

Note on line 5: This line contains only 3 stressed syllables. Yet every other odd-numbered line in the poem fulfills the tetrameter that is entailed by ballad meter, which is the prevalent pattern in Dickinson’s poems. So 4B4V gives line 5 a special waiver as honorary tetrameter, inviting the reader to hear the omitted final stress as a prelusive first thump on the drum that will engross the stanza.

A service like a Drum-
MeterA service like a Drum-
Kept beating- beating- till I thought
MeterKept beating- beating- till I thought
My mind was going numb-
MeterMy mind was going numb-

And then I heard them lift a Box
MeterAnd then I heard them lift a Box
And creak across my Soul
MeterAnd creak across my Soul
With those same Boots of Lead, again,
MeterWith those same Boots of Lead, again,
Then Space- began to toll,
MeterThen Space- began to toll,

As all the Heavens were a Bell,
MeterAs all the Heavens were a Bell,
And Being, but an Ear,
MeterAnd Being, but an Ear,
And I, and Silence, some strange Race,
MeterAnd I, and Silence, some strange Race,
Wrecked, solitary, here-
MeterWrecked, solitary, here-

Note on line 16: In this acoustically stricken lyric, the firm metrical discipline Dickinson imposes on rhythm turns up a pressure for which the caesura serves as escape valve. 4B4V scans every dash in this poem as a caesura; and it does the same with the commas here, as the pressure four stanzas have built up explodes into wreckage. Yet even this catastrophe is not the end: the relapsing migraine of meter won’t quit until the caesurally estranged exit word “then,” like “here” in line 16, leaves the speaker more helplessly exposed than ever in enigmatic time and space.


And then a Plank in Reason broke,
MeterAnd then a Plank in Reason broke,
And I dropped down, and down-
MeterAnd I dropped down, and down-
And hit a World, at every plunge,
MeterAnd hit a World, at every plunge,
And Finished knowing- then-
MeterAnd Finished knowing- then-

Rhyme
Show Stress    Foot division    Syncopation