Emily Dickinson's "The Brain - is wider than the Sky -"

Updated on September 29, 2017
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After I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962, poetry became my passion.

Emily Dickinson


Dickinson's Titles

Emily Dickinson did not provide titles to her 1,775 poems; therefore, each poem's first line becomes the title. According to the MLA Style Manuel:

"When the first line of a poem serves as the title of the poem, reproduce the line exactly as it appears in the text."

APA does not address this issue.

632 The Brain—is wider than the Sky—

The Brain—is wider than the Sky—
For—put them side by side—
The one the other will contain
With ease—and You—beside—

The Brain is deeper than the sea—
For—hold them—Blue to Blue—
The one the other will absorb—
As Sponges—Buckets—do—

The Brain is just the weight of God—
For—Heft them—Pound for Pound—
And they will differ—if they do—
As Syllable from Sound—

Reading of Dickinson's ""The Brain - is wider than the Sky"

Emily Dickinson's poem, "The Brain - is wider than the Sky," compares and contrasts the human brain with the sky, the sea, and God.

First Stanza: "The Brain—is wider than the Sky—"

The first stanza contrasts the brain with the sky claiming that the brain is wider because it can think about the sky and at the same time can think about the person who is thinking about the sky, and it can perform this operation easily.

Second Stanza: "The Brain is deeper than the sea—"

The second stanza contrasts the brain with the sea asserting that the brain can take in the sea as a sponge sucks up a bucket of water, once again referencing the vast thinking ability of the brain.

Third Stanza: "The Brain is just the weight of God—"

The third stanza contrasts but also compares the human brain to God. This stanza inflicts an interpretive difficulty; certain readers might mistakenly believe that the speaker is making a blasphemous assertion that the brain and God the same. However, such a claim is without merit.

All devout believers contend that God is not limited by or to any one item of His creation. Almighty God—the Divine Beloved and Father of All— is rightly considered to be above and greater than all His creations.

The human brain thus is only one of God's many creations, so to claim that "The Brain is just the weight of God" may at first without due reflection seem as if the speaker means that they are equal.

However, the blasphemy charge can be refuted by looking closer at what the poem actually does, especially in the last three lines of the last stanza: "For heft them Pound for Pound / And they will differ if they do / As Syllable from Sound."

The speaker does not claim direct knowledge of God; she is offering her conclusion that the brain and God are similar because of their vastness which she has demonstrated in her contrasts with the sky and sea. The sky and the sea are huge creations, and yet the brain can conceive of them as ideas, which means that the brain can hold them—or at least hold the ideas of them.

As the speaker makes her claim that the brain and God are close in essence, she places forth the fact that they do differ—they differ one from the other as a syllable differs from a sound. The difference is a solid one because there is a definite difference between a syllable and sound.

However, because the aim of her speculation is to celebrate the significance as well as vastness of the brain's capabilities, the speaker avers that the brain and God are similar. After all, it is the brain that conceives the notion of God. Still, God remains greater than the brain because while the brain is a syllable, God is sound, or the brain is a representation of God, as a syllable is a representation of sound.

Dickinson possessed a great depth of knowledge of the King James Version of the Bible. Undoubtedly, as she composed this poem, she kept in mind the following biblical claim from Genesis 1:26: "And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness."

The idea that a human being is made in the image of God was not first conceived by a poet; that claim is found in the Bible.

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes


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