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In the mouth of madness
The poem “I felt a funeral in my head” was written by Emily Dickinson in 1862. In the poem metaphors play a central role in the way the author tries to convey her ideas to the reader. Metaphors are evoked throughout the poem, from beginning to end, creating a perfect vision of the human mind in a state of gradual disarray.
According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, a metaphor is “a figure of speech in which a word or phrase literally denoting one kind of object or idea is used in place of another to suggest a likeness or analogy between them”.
The central theme for this poem is the anguish caused by the eventual mental incapacitation of the narrator. Sadness is felt through the five stanzas that compose this poem. As readers, it is easy to determine that the sadness comes from the narrator realization that what is being felt within her head is nothing more that the signs of mental degradation.
The poem is set within the confines of the human brain, where a funeral is being held. This may sound initially as a wild premise but readers soon realize that there is more to this idea of a “funeral in the brain”. The author uses this metaphor (Dickinson, line1) to describe the narrator gradual descent into madness.
In the first stanza, Dickinson also talks about the persons attending the funeral (Dickinson, line 2). The readers realize that this metaphor may have been used to represent the leading causes of the breakdown, which are never fully developed in the poem.
There are more metaphors in the second stanza. The author talks about drums (Dickinson lines 5-7) whose constant beating made the narrator felt her mind going numb. The constant drumming may refer to repetitive nonsensical thoughts within the narrators mind; the “numbing of the mind” is a metaphor for not being able to discern reality from fiction.
The author again references the funeral attendees (Dickinson, lines 9-12) as they lift a box (implied to be a funeral casket). The lead boots (Dickinson, lines 11) they are wearing may be a metaphor for the weight the issues involved in causing the mental breakdown had in this person's life.
From this point on the narrator environment changes, from one of constant noise, to one of solace and tranquility (Dickinson, lines 13-16). These lines present the reader with a vision of a chaotic state of mind: one that goes from highs to lows in a measure of seconds.
The last stanza represents the actual breakdown. Dickinson refers to a “break in the plank of reason” and a “plunge into different worlds”. (Dickinson lines 17-20). The plank in reason evokes the human mind breaking down into insanity while the different worlds represent places beyond the conscious mind where no one is willing to go.
“I felt a funeral in my head”, a poem by Emily Dickerson is full of metaphors that present the crumbling of the human mind.
From reading “I felt a funeral in my head” I was able to appreciate the skillful way the author used the literary devices at her hand to create a powerful poem that describes the collapsing of the human mind.
Emily Dickinson “I felt a funeral in my head”. Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing. Ed. Edgar V. Roberts and Henry E. Jacobs. 7th ed. Upper Saddle River: Prentice, 2004.
"Metaphor." Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2009.
Merriam-Webster Online. 5 October 2009
a. Thesis: In “I felt a funeral in my head”, author Emily Dickinson uses metaphors to present the descend of the narrator's mind into madness
b. Metaphor definition
Supporting Paragraph 1 = Poem's Theme: Mental breakdown
Supporting Paragraph 2 = Setting for the poem and metaphors for the setting
Supporting Paragraph 3 = Causes for breakdown. Metaphors for cause of breakdown
Supporting Paragraph 3 = the end. Metaphors for actual breakdown
a. In this poem metaphors are used by Dickinson to present a picture of a person having a mental breakdown
b. Closing remarks.