This poem has always had different variants of interpretation: some critics say that Emily Dickinson wanted to show a funeral as a philosophical vision of human's life (Cameron 1979, Cameron 1992) or the process of getting free (Ford 1997); others think that a funeral is a metaphor of the speaker's descent into madness (Wolff 1988) or reaction to the great stress or dread (Bennett 1986).
Cameron writes that the speaker's speech is grammatically past tense, which makes it also, so to say, emotionally past tense ("Lyric Time" 89). Wolff thinks that what is really important, that we are able to understand true values of life only from the position of death ("Emily Dickinson" 113).
Wolff pays our attention to the fact that there are no distinct "others" (except for mourners), nothing but a lone speaker. No information about life of the deceased can be gathered from this funeral, the mourners are silent - they are just muffled figures, who move constantly "to and fro", the poet repeats - "treading - treading". The only sound during the funeral service is the relentless "beating - beating" (again repetition) of the toneless "Drum", no other instruments are heard ("Emily Dickinson" 112).
However, the regularized process of the funeral is contrasted to the confused feelings and thoughts of the speaker, she is using inappropraiate combinations of words: "the funeral is "felt"; the "Mind" becomes "numb"; the coffin is lifted "across" the soul; "being" is reduced to "an Ear", speaker and "Silence" become members of the same "strange Race" of creatures" (Wolff 112). ...