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--
And then a Plank in Reason, broke,
And I dropped down, and down--
And hit a World, at every plunge,
And Finished knowing--then--
Emily Dickinson, 1861
When I first read this poem, I assumed it was about death. I took the funeral imagery literally, and did not look further. The ending, particularily, struck me as the expression of the unknowable aspect of death.
But I was rather young and had not yet experienced what Emily describes here. It was only years later, after a bout of extreme mental stress that I gained a new insight to this poem. To ease the restless repetitive thoughts in my brain, I took to pacing. And the rhythm of that pacing was perfectly echoed in the poem. I could feel those same boots of lead in my head, wearing away at the thin layer of sense, and even through the numbness, I could hear the drums beating as well.
It was a time of strange dichotomy. I could see myself, as though from the outside, and I could see that I was losing my grip on reason. But at the same time, the thoughts crowded out that more rational view and I gave myself over to the rhythm of the pacing, and the rhythm of the thoughts.
The planks of reason held for me, though. I did not drop down and down. But the thought that I might have, that I came close to that loss of inner self-control haunts me to this day. Mostly, I think, because I do not know what brought me out of it.