Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
And when they all were seated,
A Service, like a Drum–
- At last we get down to business with this funeral. The mourners sit down so the funeral service can begin.
- If you haven't been to many funerals, they usually entail a short sermon by a priest or pastor, a eulogy delivered by a close friend or family member, and likely some music or hymns near the end. Sometimes people have the opportunity to visit the casket and pay their last respects to the deceased. Then the casket is carried out to be buried.
- This poem, however, skips all the details of the service. For the speaker, the whole event feels like a drum.
Kept beating–beating–till I thought
My Mind was going numb–
- Thump, thump, thump. The funeral service feels like the steady beat of a drum.
- We're going to go out on a limb and say this probably isn't a pleas ant feeling. A drum is not an instrument one would normally associate with a funeral (at least not one in New England in the 1800s). In fact, drums are not traditionally used in any kind of church music. Dickinson would have been aware that her choice was an odd one.
- She repeats the word "beating" in the third line of this stanza, just as she repeated "treading" in the third line of the first stanza.
- If you wanted to bring the poem down to the literal level, you might say that the speaker is feeling the pounding of her own heart, or the pulsing of blood into her head, as people get with bad headaches.
- In the first stanza, the repeated treading caused the speaker to feel the physical sensation more strongly, but now she's pretty much maxed out on feeling. Her mind starts to go numb. It's like when a person gets so cold they actually stop shivering – not a good sign.
- Also, she shifts to the word "mind," which is associated with intelligence, from "brain" in the first stanza. The funeral started out as a physical experience but is now an intellectual one.