In this dark poem, in which Dickinson addresses her experience at her own funeral and burial, emotions do not seem to be present. The dead person seems to simply be observing almost scientifically, and, except for the bell-tolling, completely without feeling, at the events taking place.
Copland provides an equal counterpart to the text in his music. The pianist begins with a funeral march that explores tonality, at times seeming to spin out of control with the layered, half-step melody in the right hand. When “sense breaks through,” the piano calms the march until the “tolling” is heard in the right hand of the piano. The singer continues to declaim the events taking place. Finally, both the singer and pianist become quiet and diminish slowly in the last stanza of the poem. Dickinson’s “race” seems to trickle out and “wreck” the pianist (“Silence?”) and singer far from the flurry of the funeral itself.
I felt a funeral in my brain
by Emily Dickinson
I felt a funeral in my brain,
And mourners to and fro,
Kept treading, treading, till it seemed
That sense was breaking through.
And when they all were seated
A service like a drum
Kept beating, beating, till I thought
My mind was going numb.
And then I heard them lift a box,
And creak across my soul
With those same boots of lead, again.
Then space began to toll
As all the heavens were a bell,
And Being but an ear,
And I and silence some strange race,
Wrecked, solitary, here.
Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson
Composer(s): Aaron Copland
Song(s): 1. Nature, the Gentlest Mother
2. There Came a Wind Like a Bugle
3. Why Do They Shut Me Out of Heaven?
4. The World Feels Dusty
5. Heart, We Will Forget Him
6. Dear March, Come In!
7. Sleep is Supposed to Be
8. When They Come Back
9. I Felt a Funeral in My Brain
10. I've Heard an Organ Talk Sometimes
11. Going to Heaven!
12. The Chariot