Analysis of Emily Dickinson’s Poem

9 September 2016

Sometimes simple and easy language can be the most effective to express complex ideas. Emily Dickinson uses plain words to great effect, such as in the poem, “The Brain – is wider than the Sky”. The poem compares and contrasts the human brain with the sky, the sea, and God. This poem is manageable enough for the casual reader to understand, and yet opens up ideas for the sophisticated reader to explore. In the following paragraphs I will analyze Dickinson’s poem, line for line, and explain the theme of the poem, which is the relationship between the human mind and the external world.

In the opening stanza of “The Brain- is wider than the Sky-“, Dickinson contrasts the human brain with the sky. In the first line Dickinson sets the tone of the poem and states, “The Brain – is wider thean the sky-“. I usually view the wide sky as being almost limitless, but here Dickinson is saying that the brain is even beyond the limits of the sky. In the second line, “for- put them side by side-“, Dickinson asks the reader to compare the brain with the sky.

In the third line of the first stanza, she says, “The one the other will contain”, and without saying which one contains the other she leaves the reader to assume that the sky fits within the brain. The brain is able to incorporate the sky and the entire universe into it’s thoughts. In the last line of this stanza, Dickinson writes, “With ease- and You- beside-“, to strengthen the point. In this line “You” means the human body, which is ironic as the brain is physically smaller than the body, but not metaphorically.

In the second stanza of the poem, Dickinson compares the brain with the sea. In the 5th line of the poem, “The Brain is deeper than the sea-“, Dickinson uses this metaphor to say that although the sea is made up of a vast amount of water, the brain can store an immense amount of knowledge. In the second line of this stanza, when she says, “for-hold them- Blue to Blue-“, she may be reestablishing the sky metaphor that was used in the first stanza. Another way to interpret this line, is the color the mind can imagine compared to the blue of the natural sky.

In the third and fourth lines, if she is comparing the sky to the sea, then she is talking about how the clouds in the sky absorbs the ocean water to create rain. Another interpretation is that the brain can imagine the sky, thereby absorbing the sky into it’s thoughts. The third and final stanza is arguably the most complex of the three stanzas in this poem. In the 9th line Dickinson says that the weight of the brain is equal to that of God, because our total collective consciousness is comparagle to that of God, and the brain’s capacity is infinie like God.

In the second line Dickinson again asks us to test the two subjects against each other, as she did in the second line of the other two stanzas. In the 11th line of the poem, she adds an element of doubt by saying, “If they do”. The last line I find the most interesting, when Dickinson says the “Brain” and “God” differ, “As syllable from sound-“, which is imcompatible as a comparison. Syllable and sound cannot be compared, which reminds me of the idiom, “apples to oranges”. To sum it up, the is comparable to the “Sky” and the “Sea”, but is incomparable to the mind of God.

The form of the poem consists of three four-line stanzas. They follow iambic tetrameter for the first and thrid lines of each stanza, and trimeter for the second and fourth lines of each stanza. The rhyme scheme Dickinson uses is ABCB in each stanza. Dickinson uses long dashes to break the flow of words, which works as a rhythmic device to cause short pauses. The theme of the poem is the complicated relatiohship between the mind and the external world. In the poem, “The Brain – is wider than the Sky_”, the poet tesifies to the mind’s ability to interpret, absorb, and experience the world around it.

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