“The Brain—is wider than the Sky—”
The speaker declares that the brain is wider than the sky, for if they are held side by side, the brain will absorb the sky “With ease—and You—beside.” She says that the brain is deeper than the sea, for if they are held “Blue to Blue,” the brain will absorb the sea as sponges and buckets absorb water. The brain, the speaker insists, is the “weight of God”—for if they are hefted “Pound for Pound,” the brain’s weight will differ from the weight of God only in the way that syllable differs from sound.
This poem employs all of Dickinson’s familiar formal patterns: it consists of three four-line stanzas metered iambically, with tetrameter used for the first and third lines of each stanza and trimeter used for the second and fourth lines; it follows ABCB rhyme schemes in each stanza; and uses the long dash as a rhythmic device designed to break up the flow of the meter and indicate short pauses.
Another of Dickinson’s most famous poems, “The Brain—is wider than the Sky—” is in many ways also one of her easiest to understand—a remarkable fact, given that the poem’s theme is actually the quite complicated relationship between the mind and the outer world. Using the homiletic mode that characterizes much of her early poetry—”the brain is wider than the sky” is as homiletic a statement as “success is counted sweetest by those who ne’er succeed”—, Dickinson testifies to the mind’s capacity to absorb, interpret, and subsume perception and experience. The brain is wider than the sky despite the sky’s awesome size because the brain is able to incorporate the universe into itself, and thereby even to absorb the ocean. The source of this capacity, in this poem, is God. In an astonishing comparison Dickinson likens the minds capabilities to “the weight of God”, differing from that weight only as syllable differs from sound.
This final stanza reads quite easily, but is actually rather complex—it is difficult to know precisely what Dickinson means. The brain differs from God, or from the weight of God, as syllable differs from sound; the difference between syllable and sound is that syllable is given human structure as part of a word, while sound is raw, unformed. Thus Dickinson seems to conceive of God here as an essence that takes its form from that of the human mind.
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