Study Guide

I felt a Funeral, in my Brain Versions of Reality

By Emily Dickinson

Versions of Reality

I felt a Funeral, in my Brain, (line 1)

The most curious word in this line is "felt." We might expect "imagined" or "dreamt" instead. The poem certainly reads a lot like a visual dream, with its frequent and sudden shifts in perspective. But the funeral could also be a metaphor for some conscious feeling or emotion. Whatever kind of reality we're talking about, this poem takes us deep, deep into the mind.

That Sense was breaking through– (line 4)

What is her sense "breaking through"? Are these her natural resistances to feeling? Are they mental resistances to some memory she has avoided thinking about? Dickinson is famous for leaving out important words or information. Her poems are incredibly condensed. We think she wants us to fill in the gaps with whatever comes into our imaginations.

And creak across my Soul
With those same Boots of Lead, again,
Then Space–began to toll, (lines 10-12)

Dickinson's poems often feature some dreamlike space. She spent a lot of her life writing inside her room, and rooms and other closed spaces could seem like an entire universe to her. The sudden shift between the place where the funeral takes place and all of "Space" suggests a dream.

As all the Heavens were a Bell,
And Being, but an Ear, (lines 13-14)

This poem contrasts the incredibly huge with the incredibly small. The largeness of the "Heavens" is placed beside the smallness of a human ear. We're just a tiny speck in a massive, reverberating universe. Makes you feel a bit humble, doesn't it?

And then a Plank in Reason, broke,
And I dropped down, and down–
And hit a World, at every plunge,
And Finished knowing–then– (lines 17-20)

We thought things couldn't possibly get bigger than the "Heavens," but now she brings in multiple "Worlds." Sounds a bit like the idea of parallel universes. She could mean something like other states of consciousness that we can't even imagine. This is a very trippy poem.