Worse Than Death
——An Analysis of Irony in Emily Dickinson’s “I Felt a Funeral in My Brain”
The whole poem was in the past tense, just like relating to the poet’s nostalgic retrospective, telling a story that truly happened to her. What’s so scary a part about the poem is, if without the first line, the major subject— a “Funeral” that Emily once went through by herself, offering readers an angle of view from their own coffins, alive. The poem, thus, has put up a question probably with no answer: “what if you died and were about to be buried, but were still conscious all the time through the funeral?” Since a coffin can directly represent a loss of “life”, Emily tried to make use of that sense of loneliness and isolation (yet devoid of a feeling of terror), which can be found in a coffin, to denote a thing worse than death— a loss of “mind”, as opposed to a loss of “life”. In fact, that’s just the beginning of Emily’s irony, which is, burying someone that merely lost “herself (or himself)” instead of her (or his) “life”. The point is that in Emily’s mind, it was even worse than death to lose one’s own “Self’. The first imagery showing up and running through the whole poem is the “Mourners”. In common sense, they were supposed to sob or wail over the lost person; while on the contrary, there were no sounds of sadness at all in the funeral, which is quite ironic. The only sound that the poem was trying to convey is their stupid march— treading, treading— and their so-called service— beating, beating, resembling an army of cumbersome robots in their “Boots of Lead” disposing a bin of trashes or nastily, corpses. Weirdly enough, no mourning attire, no face, no interaction (for example, bestowing a rose on the dead, or whispering muffled with one another about the dead), and even no slightest feeling are described, at least for the sake of the dead person; instead, all in all is merely a simple statement of a routine procedure (arriving— taking a seat— waiting...
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