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A Funeral

Symbol Analysis

This poem is way more fun if you imagine there's really a funeral inside this woman's mind. A bunch of tiny people have crawled in through her ear and set up a tiny society for themselves – kind of like those cartoon elves who live inside a tree and bake cookies all day (how did they get inside that tree?!). Anyway, the funeral is not a simile; it's a metaphor. Her mind doesn't just feel like a funeral; the funeral is really taking place. Funerals are religious services, and this one is clearly a Christian funeral of the kind you might find at a quaint Protestant church in Dickinson's hometown of Amherst, Massachusetts. Well, you might if you lived in the 19th century.

  • Line 1: We can't say it enough: the funeral is a metaphor, not a simile! The speaker doesn't use telltale words like "like" or "as" that would identify the funeral as a simile. Moreover, it's an extended metaphor, because it continues throughout the entire poem.
  • Line 2: The treading of the Mourners "to and fro," or back and forth, introduces a motif of repetitive sounds of motions.
  • Lines 5-6: Ah, now there's a simile. Dickinson compares the service to a drum using that telltale word "like."
  • Line 9: We assume that the "Box" means the casket in which the body of the dead person will be buried.
  • Lines 12-13: In this simile, space is compared to a ringing bell. You might think we had left behind the extended funeral metaphor, but Dickinson seems to be describing the end of the service, when it was customary to ring the church bells.

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