The Brain—is wider than the Sky by Emily Dickinson

‘The Brain—is wider than the Sky’ is often considered to be one of Dickinson’s most popular poems. On the face of it, the text is quite simple and direct, but there is a lot going on under the surface. It explores many of the themes that Dickinson is best-remembered for including nature, God, and the human experience.

The Brain—is wider than the Sky by Emily Dickinson

 

Summary of The Brain—is wider than the Sky

‘The Brain—is wider than the Sky’ by Emily Dickinson is a well-loved, complex poem that speaks on the importance and wonder of the human brain.

Throughout the three stanzas of the poem, Dickinson creates three comparisons. She says that the brain is wider than the sky, deeper than the sea, and almost the same as the weight of God. By speaking about the brain in this way, she is trying to convey the organ’s great ability. It is unlimited, unlike the sky and sea, and has comparable power to God’s. 

 

Structure of The Brain—is wider than the Sky 

‘The Brain—is wider than the Sky’ by Emily Dickinson is a three-stanza poem that employs the pattern that Dickinson most commonly used, ABCB. This rhyme scheme changes from stanza to stanza. At the same time, she uses alternating lines of iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter. These two metrical forms are made up of sets of syllables, the first unstressed and the second stressed. In the odd-numbered lines, starting with line one, there are four pairs of these syllables (tetrameter) and in the even-numbered lines, starting with line two, there are three pairs of syllables (trimeter). 

 

Literary Devices in The Brain—is wider than the Sky 

Dickinson makes use of several literary devices in ‘The Brain—is wider than the Sky’. These include but are not limited to examples of metaphor, simile, and alliteration. The latter, alliteration, occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. For example, “side by side” in line two of the first stanza as well as “Syllable” and “Sound” in line four of the last stanza.

A metaphor is a comparison between two, unlike things that do not use “like” or “as” is also present in the text. When using this technique a poet is saying that one thing is another thing, they aren’t just similar. There are several examples in this poem as Dickinson makes metaphorical comparisons between the brain, the sea, the sky, and God. 

A simile is a comparison between two unlike things that uses the words “like” or “as”. A poet uses this kind of figurative language to say that one thing is similar to another, not like metaphor, that it “is” another. For example, in the last lines of the poem, the poet compares the brain to a sponge. Just like a sponge, it has the capacity to soak up a whole bucket of water.

 

Analysis of The Brain—is wider than the Sky

Stanza One

The Brain—is wider than the Sky— 

For—put them side by side—

The one the other will contain

With ease—and you—beside—

In the first stanza of ‘The Brain—is wider than the Sky’ the speaker begins by making use of the line that later came to be used as the title. This was often the case with Dickinson’s poetry because she published very few poems while she was alive. They were later titled by their first lines and two different series of numbers. She states, from the first line, that the brain is incredibly important and impressive. It is “wider than the Sky”. This is of course a metaphor. Dickinson is referring to the brain’s capacity to synthesize information and think about itself and the world, not its actual breadth. 

She describes how the brain has an infinite capacity to explore the world. There are no limits to the brain as there are to the sky. It can think of “You” along with everything else.  This is only part of her argument though, the brain is important for other reasons as well. 

 

Stanza Two

The Brain is deeper than the sea— 

For—hold them—Blue to Blue— 

The one the other will absorb— 

As sponges—Buckets—do—

In the second stanza of ‘The Brain—is wider than the Sky’, she adds that the “Brain is deeper than the sea”. She’s moving through the different metaphorical physical parts of the brain, comparing it to the enormity of our physical world. This first line is a mirror of the first line of the first stanza. 

The brain, she says, can take in or “absorb” the whole ocean—that’s how incredible it is. There is a good example of a simile in these lines as she says that the brain absorbs as “sponges” do. They can take all the water from a bucket. Through this simile, she is trying to get across the point that the brain can take in an infinite amount of information. 

 

Stanza Three 

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—

The third stanza of ‘The Brain—is wider than the Sky’ expands the brain even further. Now, she says, the “Brain is just the weight of God”. It is “just” or almost the same thing as the weight of God (his importance/power), there is a difference here. The last two lines suggest that maybe there isn’t so much of a difference after all. If they differ at all it is only as syllables and sounds differ. This last line is the most complicated in the poem. It compares the human brain to syllables and God’s energy, his power, to sound. 

This suggests, (these lines are definitely up for interpretation) that the brain has a structure to it, as syllables do, although it is not limited. God on the other hand is pure sound without structure. Sound has the capacity to become anything. 

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