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Then a Plank in Reason Broke

Emily Dickinson was an American poet who lived in Amherst, Massachusetts, where she lived an introverted and reclusive life. She was brought up in a strict Puritan family, though her poems suggest that she rebelled against her strong, religious upbringing, and many of her poems reflect the view that she did not see religion as a positive or sacred way to live you life, and while her family joined the church, Dickinson remained unconverted and so this made her ineligible for church membership.

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Dickinson presents emotional trauma in “I felt a Funeral, in my Brain,” by instantly creating the image of a mental breakdown, the idea of a funeral taking place in a person’s brain merges a psychological death with a physical death. The image of the speakers mental breakdown is portrayed through physical means “And then a Plank in Reason, broke,” If a plank is missing from the floorboards of a room, it makes the room unstable, insecure, and this portrays the mind of the speaker breaking down, becoming unstable and dangerous.

The idea of the Brain physically dying is sinister and confusing, and creates an abstract opening. This is supported by the funeral imagery, mourners, the coffin and funeral service. Which give a concrete form to Dickinson’s abstract feelings. Dickinson creates a feeling of mounting pressure and tension in the first two stanzas the repetition of ‘trending’ and ‘beating’. This suggests that there is a relentless force, pressure acting against the mind, numbing the mind with its constant and never-ending beating.

The use of the letter ‘B’, which is a plosive consonant creates a feeling of contempt towards the constant beating, which is taking place in the speaker’s head, driving them mad. The idea of the human sense are played upon in this poem, Dickinson takes away certain senses such as sight, thought whenever one sense is taken away, another sense is heightened “And then I heard them lift a Box –“ this shows how the speaker has lost their sense of sight, but their sense of hearing is heightened, this is emphasized throughout the second stanza.

The funeral is portrayed through sound, as the sounds get more intense, the treading, beating and creaking make repetitive sounds which build up throughout the second and third stanza and builds up until the speaker describes the synaesthetic description of space itself appearing ‘to toll’. Dickinson uses a synecdoche to portray the speaker as one body part, the ear. This puts emphasis on the importance of sound and the human senses. And then a Plank in Reason, broke,” This signifies the final separation of the speaker from the world, the breaking plank. It symbolizes the loss of support in the speakers mind, that it has been lost, representing the mind as unstable, fragile. There is now no rational thought left in the speakers mind, as there is nothing to support her, a plank is missing in the floor of her mind. The entire poems seems to slowly fall into darkness with the speaker, who is falling into the darkness of death.

The rhyme scheme symbolizes this, as when the poem beings Dickinson uses exact rhyme, giving the poem an ordered feeling, though in a final stanza Dickinson suddenly uses slant rhyme, this portrays how the reason has broken down, and the mind of the speaker has plunged into despair. Emotional trauma is a common subject in many of Dickinson’s poems. “There’s a certain Slant of light,” also shares the theme of religious oppression that is present in “I felt a funeral, in my Brain,” Immediately, Dickinson undermines something that is meant to be pure and innocent, light.

She overthrows the typical use of light imagery, which symbolizes security and clarity, and uses the low light of winter in a paradoxical way to symbolize oppression. She then goes on to compare this oppression to “the Heft Of Cathedral Tunes –“. Dickinson is again undermining religion, and rebelling against her strong Puritan upbringing. In the first stanza Dickinson uses synaesthesia to portray and aural imagery of the “Cathedral Tunes” with the tactile image of weight and the vital image of the light.

Dickinson uses an oxymoron “Heavenly Hurt” to portray her painful idea of heaven, her rejection of religion. There is a feeling that she gets a certain pleasure from experiencing darker emotions, as if she is drawn to a melancholy mood. The pain Dickinson feels is not physical, it is internal, emotional. The fact that there is “no scar” highlights this, the pain is deeply rooted within her, and the pain alters her, causing “internal indifference,” I feel as though Dickinson feels this ‘’internal indifference’’ can only be experienced by those of the same knowledge as er, artists, poets. She says “us”, signifying she does not feel as though she is alone, though part of a minority that see things in the way in which she does, using their artistic temperament. Emotional trauma is represented in the third stanza “ ’Tis the Seal Despair – “ The idea of the “Seal”, which would have been used by churches, to seal formal letters, highlights that Dickinson feels as though religion is responsible for much sadness and despair.

It was also a Puritan belief that sacraments were the seals of the covenant by which God affirms his promise of salvation to the elect, though this promise is again undermined by Dickinson as she promises “Seal Despair”. This is similar to the hopeless feeling the reader gets from “I felt a Funeral, in my Brain,” Dickinson presents emotional trauma in her poems with her punctuation, many of her sentences are left unfinished, giving the verses of her poems uneven patterns, reflecting her distress.

Her poems often become more fragmented and distressed as they progress, as the subject of the poem becomes more sinister. “After great pain, a formal feeling comes-“ In this poem, Dickinson suggests that pain is followed by a ‘formal feeling’ which is associated with control, this suggestion that you can control your emotions. The contrast of the ‘formal feeling’ with the expected emotions such as great emotional distress or hysteria.

This highlights Dickinson’s emotional trauma greatly, as it displays she is attempting to control it. The poem talks of death “like Tombs-“ This is similar to “I felt a funeral, in my Brain,” in the sense that the person dying is feeling great distress, though in “I felt a funeral, in my Brain,” the person dying has no control, which differs to “After great pain, a formal feeling comes-“ as the person in question here appears to have control over their suffering.

Dickinson uses a synecdoche to describe the person, rather than describing them as a whole, she focus’s on body parts which are given an individual existence. This allows Dickinson to show how mind can control emotions, thought there is an indication that emotions can not be completely controlled by the mind as “The stiff Heart questions” this shows that although the mind is trying to control the pain, the heart still questions why it happened, or questioning why the mind is trying to control it.

The described movements in the poem are also very controlled “The Feet, mechanical, go round –“ this is similar to the idea of the feet treading constantly in “I felt a funeral, in my Brain,” though in “I felt a funeral” the movements are uncontrollable, the treading is relentless, breaking through into the peaceful afterlife of the dying. In “After great pain”, the movements have purpose, there is a reason for them, to mechanically move on from past pain, without looking back.

Dickinson often thinks of pain as beautiful, she often seems as though she takes pleasure from internal pain, as if it gives her a greater understanding of life. “A Quartz contentment, like a stone. ” Here Dickinson compares the beauty of the stone to pain, but although the stone is beautiful, it is also cold. You can see through the stone, exactly as you can see through Dickinson’s ‘formal’ exterior, to see that she is in reality, badly effected by the pain which she seems to intent on keeping at bay, though the longer she does the greater and more intense the pain will get.

In the final stanza Dickinson uses dashes to fragment it, much like she did in “There’s a certain Slant of Light” and “I felt a funeral, in my Brain” the dashes fragment that last verse to symbolize how, by that time in the poem the life of the speaker has become fragmented, incomplete. Each one of the poems ends on the sinister note of death, this shows how Dickinson believed that the only real release from pain was death, as there was nothing after death. In death you would be free from everything, forever numb and free of the compressing religion which ruled her life in reality.

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