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[Poetry Friday]: Mental Illness and Emily Dickinson

poetry friday

Iphigene Here.

This week’s review of Sophie Kinsella’s Finding Audrey has brought my thoughts to mental illness and psychological disorders.  I think more and more, society is becoming educated in mental illness. In 2015 alone, as I go through a list of new releases I have seen quite a diverse set of titles featuring characters with depression, social anxiety disorder, and even schizophrenia. Seeing this titles alone, the exploration of these topics not solely towards hard, bleak endings but towards message of hope has made both my psychologist heart and my depressive heart happy. As I ruminate over these close-to-home topics I am reminded of my favorite poet–Emily Dickinson.


Back in 1999, I discovered Dickinson’s poetry. My sister, learning of my love for the poet’s work, gave me a book of her poetry as a Christmas present.  Dickinson’s enigmatic and recluse personality, as well as her poetry has led a lot of researchers to believe that she suffered either with Agoraphobia, Depression or Bipolar Disorder. If you google her name beside mental illness quite a few articles would come up. Today, for Poetry Friday, as hosted by Heidi@ My Juicy Little Universe, I’ll be featuring one of her poems that has been often quoted to reflect her probable mood disorder.

I felt a Funeral, in my Brain

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 –
Reading it now, it does feel as if she capture how it feels to be in depression. However, we can only speculate if the poet indeed suffer from some form of psychological issue.
Have a good friday!

21 comments on “[Poetry Friday]: Mental Illness and Emily Dickinson

  1. Imogene, I am showcasing an Emily Dickinson poem also. The one I found, A Soft Sea Washed Around The House, is one of her upbeat poems. I created my own after I watched a butterfly’s flight.


    • Lovely. Two Dickinson poems (so far) for this week’s poetry friday. I adore both her sadder and happier poems. It is often a mystery me how outdoor her poems can be when she was such a recluse. thanks for dropping by.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Just that opening line…such genius!


  3. Depressed or not, this piece is so amazing. In some ways it must give comfort to others who suffer from depression – to be able to hear someone else describe the feelings so well. It would seem that it could help knowing that others have had the same feelings that they perhaps could never put into words.


    • Hi Donna,
      Definitely. I for one have been diagnosed with Clinical Depression and reading her poem in this new light/perspective its like somebody captured the feeling. Her poems always resonated through me and maybe it was that, her ability to capture both light and dark in a person.


  4. This is a new one to me, Iphigene. Thank you! These are such curious lines:
    And Mourners to and fro
    Kept treading – treading – till it seemed
    That Sense was breaking through –

    But that is how it can feel when one is in a downward spiral, even if not clinically depressed. What a wonder that Emily was able to write it all out!


    • Oh, I’m glad Heidi to have shared this poem then. While not as famous as her other poems this one is quite popular in building the case that Dickinson might have some kind of mental illness. I’m glad to have introduced something new to you. Thanks for hosting heidi.


  5. I had not read this one either. Such sadness reflected in this. I recently read Eileen Spinelli’s middle grades novel in verse, Another Day as Emily. While not focusing on the mental illness, it does capture her reclusive behavior as the main character “becomes” Emily in response to her own frustrations with life. Very well done.


  6. Thanks for sharing this, Iphigene. It is beautiful. Dickinson is a favourite of mine, too.


  7. maryleehahn

    What a perfect way to start a conversation about mental illness.


    • Hi Mary Lee,
      I’m glad if it does start a conversation on Mental Illness. I’m trying to get it going in all the possible venues I can. There still so much stigma attached to it, which is counterproductive to society addressing it.


  8. It’s beautiful that poetry can explain feelings and experiences and build an understanding between people! Thanks for sharing this poem in that context, Iphigene.


  9. Phew! This hits way too close to home. A family member has struggled hugely with mental health issues this summer and we’ve spent hours and hours in mental health clinics. I’ve been aware, in whole new ways of how many people are suffering and how little we as a country are doing to support them. Dickinson captures it perfectly.


    • Carol,
      I am glad you found this poem and thank you for sharing your experience. I struggled with depression last year. There’s so much that needs to be done in helping people with mental illness all over the world. I come from the Philippines and there’s still a level of misunderstanding about mental illness. I do hope that as more and more literature talk about this, the better the conversation on mental illness get. I’m linking here at love letter to people with mental illness written by a blogger that was affirming to me. You might find some use for it: http://letsqueerthingsup.com/2015/07/14/a-love-letter-to-anyone-and-everyone-with-a-mental-illness/


  10. I was not familiar with this particular Dickinson poem. Amazing how she captures her feelings in such an unsettling but beautiful way. Mental Illness needs to be talked about openly and honestly by all. Thanks for sharing, Iphigene.


    • Hi Briget,
      I suppose this isn’t her more famous poems. Many, I suppose who read her poetry and have mental illness feel connected to her since she found the words to articulate what we feel. There is so much to talk about mental illness, from what it is, what we can do and the general health care support. I am glad this little post sort of brought some awareness or discussion to mental illness and Dickinson’s less popular poem. Thanks for visiting. 🙂


  11. Pingback: [Poetry Friday]: Fighting Dragons & Depression | Gathering Books

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