“I Felt a Funeral in My Brain” and “As Imperceptibly as Grief” by Emily Dickinson

← Literary Criticism of Leroy Moffitt and Norma Jean RelationshipsAmerican Dream and Pursuit of Happiness in Babylon Revisited Symbolism →


Emily Dickinson was born in Amherst, Massachusetts, in 1830. The poetry of this outstanding writer was widely accepted and criticized in America and beyond. Examples of her poetry include “The Secret”, “I Felt a Funeral in My Brain”, “The Mystery of Pain”, “As Imperceptibly as Grief”, and “The Bustle in a House”.. The main objective of this paper is to compare two of her poems, namely “As Imperceptibly as Grief” and “I Felt a Funeral in My Brain’.

“I Felt a Funeral in My Brain” and “As Imperceptibly as Grief”

In “I Felt a Funeral in My Brain”, Emily Dickinson describes a conception of a funeral in the speaker’s mind. The speaker describes events that usually take place at a funeral service. There are also people who attend the service, the mourners, and those who lift a box that implies a coffin. In the first stanza, the speaker describes a slow death that occurs in her mind stating, “Mourners to and fro, kept treading, till it seemed, That sense was breaking through” (Stanza 1, line 1, 2, 3). The mourners described in the poem signify the thoughts that run through the speaker’s mind.

The poem is an allegorical description of the fact that the normal functioning of the speaker’s mind has stopped similarly to that of a dead person. The title of the poem is a metaphor signifying the death of mind. Dickinson’s classic ballad meter style is applied in this poem and serves the purpose of giving the poem a gloomy mood. The author’s message comes out clearly through a rhythmic tone that is like a tone of a funeral dirge. The ABDB rhyme scheme is used in the poem. The slant rhyme is used only in the last stanza. The motion in “I Felt a Funeral in My Brain” is created with the help of alliteration and repetition of words. For instance, “treading and treading (3), beating, beating (7), and dropped down, down” (18). Repetition also creates a rhythm if the whole poem. Utilizing the figures of speech helps the author describe the masses that are marching over her. The mourners are a metaphor for the people that matter in the speaker’s life similarly to the people who would be at funeral mourning for their loved one. Using this metaphor, the author depersonalizes people in her world and does not hold anyone of them accountable for wrecking her mind.

The theme presented in the poem is two-fold. The theme is isolation both in physical and emotional terms. First of all, it describes a funeral and things that make it traditional. Second of all, there is a formality of the whole process. The speaker is physically isolated by the funeral setting. The mental breakdown also makes the speaker isolated emotionally. The structure of events depicted in the poem (the arrival of mourners, funeral and burial) help to develop the theme.

In “As Imperceptibly as Grief” Emily Dickinson describes the feeling experienced while watching summer turning into autumn. The speaker comes back from journey and tries to explain the circumstances that surrounded it. For instance, in stanza one, the speaker says, “As imperceptibly as grief, The summer lapsed away” (Stanza 1, line 1, 2). Such a description implies that her journey was smooth. Just like in “I Felt a Funeral in My Brain”, this poem also has one speaker.

The theme of the poem “Imperceptibly as Grief” is brought out by the figures of speech. Although the theme is the passage of time, which is different from the one in “I Felt a Funeral in My Brain”, it is also brought out through the metaphor of seasons and day and emotions. In the first stanza, the speaker describes the end of summer and likens it to grief. The changes that occur are elaborated in the second stanza, when the speaker describes the day getting shorter. In stanza three, the speaker talks about the early arrival of night. The last stanza describes the end of summer. All this represents the theme of the passage of time.

The use of stylistic devices is evident just like in “I Felt a Funeral in My Brain”. In “As Imperceptibly as Grief”, the use of stylistic devises helps the reader get a deeper feeling of the subject matter rather than just the message. The metaphors such as “grief” are used to depict how time passes unnoticed and is clearly captured in, “As imperceptibly as grief” (Stanza 1, line 1). The speaker also describes the passage of time by comparing it to a boat and bird in the last stanza. It is mentioned that summer passes “without a wing, or a service of Keel” (Stanza 4, line 2, 3). The allusions to nature are also important in showing and depicting the passage of time.

The tone of the poem is different from that in “I Felt a Funeral in My Brain”. The tone in ‘As Imperceptibly as Grief” is two-fold. As the poem begins, the tone is more melancholic, because the speaker compares the passage of summer time to grief. The time of grief always passes slowly, and time spent on getting rid of grief passes faster. However, as the poem ends, the tone changes to a positive one. The speaker does not compare summer to grief anymore, but thinks of how time passes and what one should do about the past. The speaker says, “…our summer made her light escapes into the beautiful” (Stanza 4, line 3, 4). Actually, this shows that the speaker remembers and treasures the past.


In conclusion, both “I Felt a Funeral in My Brain” and “As Imperceptibly as Grief” are similar in terms of themes development, usage of stylistic devices and single speakers. The tone in the two poems has also been used to develop a particular feeling. However, the poems differ in terms of themes and tones. The author develops the theme of isolation in the poem “I Felt a Funeral in My Brain” and uses a somber tone. On the contrary, the poem “As Imperceptibly as Grief” is characterized by the theme of the passage of time. The tones presented here are melancholic and positive.