Dickinson uses the metaphor of a funeral in her poem “I felt a Funeral in my Brain” to describe abstract emotions related to stressful situations that could destroy or take away everything that an individual values in life. The poem is quite permissive in the sense that it allows multiple readings where the reader may ascribe the emotions described in the poem to various situations that are difficult to cope with in life. Of course, to add dimension to the poem, Dickinson uses numerous poetic devices to enhance the experience of reading this particular piece.
The piece features alliterations such as in the line, “I felt a Funeral, in my Brain,”. (1) Here there is a repetition of the consonant ‘f’ sound in the words ‘felt’ and ‘funeral’. Again, the same poetic device is seen in the line, “And I, and Silence, some strange Race”. (15) where the consonant ‘s’ sound is repeated in the words, ‘some’ and ‘strange’. Another one of these lines featuring an alliteration is the line, “And I dropped down, and down –“. 18) While alliteration has no contextual function in these lines, the device serves to give the poem some sort of regular rhythm so that reading the poem is not just an intellectual experience, but also an experience that is enhanced by sound. The poem is given an interesting beat to it because of these alliterations. Another device intended to give the poem a more rhythmic quality is the assonance which is found in the line, “Kept treading – treading – till it seemed”(3) where the vowel sound ‘ea’ is repeated in the word ‘treading’ and the vowel sound ‘I’ is repeated in the words ‘treading’,. ‘Til’, and ‘it’.
In the same manner, the line, “And I, and Silence, some strange Race” (15) also demonstrates the use of assonance in the repetition of the vowel sound ‘I’ in the words ‘I’ and ‘silence’ and the repetition of the sound ‘ae’ in the words ‘strange’ and ‘race’. There are also metaphors in this very brief yet multi-dimensional poem. For instance, to demonstrate the frailty of reason, Dickinson writes, “And then a Plank in Reason, broke”. (17) Here one sees how reason is likened to a plank which breaks; a very clever way of illustrating the common human reactionary idiom which is ‘breaking under pressure’.
Another metaphor in the poem is “With those same Boots of Lead, again” (11) which describes the heavy steps that a bothered or disturbed person makes. In effect, this particular line is an effective metaphor that illustrates the footfalls of a troubled or stressed person; perhaps, an experience that is familiar to most people as not having the energy to walk when stressed or trouble, hence heavy feet. Aside from metaphors, the very brief poem also manages to throw in a few similes, such as the line, “A Service, like a Drum –“(6), which likens the voices of the people in the funeral service to the incessant beating of a drum.
So, the sound referred to in this line is an annoying or repetitive sound that seems to nag at the voice’s mind. Then, there is the line, “As all the Heavens were a Bell / And Being, but an Ear” (13-14) where the voice tries to illustrate how noisy or boisterous prayers are in the context of a person who is currently troubled or is dealing with problems that would seem insurmountable. These lines express the desperation of the state of the voice in that it describes how prayers are often empty and without significance or can do nothing to alleviate one’s sorry state.
It is amazing how Dickinson is able to pack so many poetic devices into one very short poem. This demonstrates the brilliance of this poet in the art of poetry because it simply shows how expertly crafted and well-thought of the poem truly is. There is also a hyperbole in the poem in the lines, “And I dropped down, and down – / And hit a World, at every plunge” (18-19) describing the gravity or the seriousness of the state of the voice; hereto expressed as the feeling of falling down and hitting a world at every plunge.
In effect, what the poet is saying here is that each disappointment or stressful situation puts the voice in a situation where he/she has to face the consequences presented or put before him/her by a confusing, unyielding, and indifferent society, here referred to as a “world”. Not to be left out in the poem is the personification which is found in the line, “And I, and Silence, some strange Race” (15) While personification is not immediately evident or apparent in this line, closer analysis of it would reveal, that in fact, personification is used to represent an abstract concept.
When the voice puts silence in equal footage with himself/herself by treating silence as some sort of companion, personification is achieved. So, in this line, the voice of the poem claims that he/she and silence are both from a strange race; what this does is it gives the reader the illusion that apart from the ‘I’ who is a tangible concrete element of the poem, ‘silence’ which is an abstract concept also becomes a concrete element as it is personified by treating it as a companion of the ‘I’. This poem by Emily Dickinson simply demonstrates how craftsmanship is often very important in the creation of a poem.
The intentions of a poet are mostly to convey emotion and to embody such emotion in words and the effective use of poetic devices achieves this particular poetic intention or objective. When a poem is able to effectively use poetic devices such reflects on the expertise and genius of the poet because while only some poetic devices can be found in some other singular poems, this poem packs in a large number, if not all poetic devices in the span of twenty lines spread throughout five stanzas. Such a feat is amazing in itself.