"I felt a funeral in my brain" traces the speaker's descent into madness. It is a terrifying poem for both the speaker and the reader. The speaker experiences the loss of self in the chaos of the unconscious, and the reader experiences the speaker's descending madness and the horror most of us feel about going crazy.
Dickinson uses the metaphor
funeral to represent the speaker's sense that a part of her is dying,
that is, her reason is being overwhelmed by the irrationality of the
unconscious. A funeral is an appropriate image for this ordeal. The
obvious connotation with a
funeral is death. Also a funeral is a formal event, whose
rules and procedures suggest control and order. The control and order
implicit in a funeral contrast ironically with the lack of control and
the loss of rationality that threaten the speaker. In addition, a
marks the passage from one state to another (life to death), a parallel
to the speaker's passing from one stage to another (sanity to
insanity). However, the poet is not observing the funeral but is feeling
it. She is both observer of the funeral and
participant, indicating that the Self is divided. By the end of the
poem, the Self will have shattered into
pieces or chaos.
The mourners are a metaphor to express her pain. Their
treading (note the repetition of
the word, which gives emphasis and suggests the action) indicates a
pressure that is pushing her down. The speaker has a momentary
impression that reason ("sense") is escaping or being lost. The
of the treading is reasserted with the repetition, "beating, beating."
This time her mind, the source of reasoning, goes "numb," a further
deterioration in her condition.
You can trace the process of the speaker's loss of rationality in stanzas three and four. The last two lines of stanza four assess her condition; she sees herself as "wrecked, solitary." Her descent into irrationality separates her from other human beings, making her a member of "some strange race." Her alienation and inability to communicate are indicated by her being enveloped by silence.
In the last stanza, the one I have added here, Dicksinson uses the metaphor of standing on a plank or board over a precipice, to describe the speaker's descent into irrationality. In other words, her hold on rationality was insecure, just as standing on a plan would feel insecure. She falls past "worlds," which may stand for her past; in any case, she is losing her connections to reality. Her descent is described as "plunges," suggesting the speed and force of her fall into psychological chaos ("got through knowing"). The last word of the poem, "then--," does not finish or end her experience but leaves opens the door for the nightmare-horror of madness.