Let’s Analyze Emily Dickinson’s Poem #632

brain shape eraser and a paper clip

What does Emily Dickinson mean when she writes, “the brain is wider than the sky”?

Emily Dickinson’s Poem #632 seems to revolve around the human mind as its theme. The first stanza, after which the poem is commonly titled, is what instantly drew my eyes to this poem. “The Brain – is wider than the Sky…” she writes, “For – put them side by side – the one the other will contain…” These two lines at first seem vague. 

However, after a moment or two of pondering, you can make some sense of this introduction. The Brain indeed contains a great many thoughts and memories, and if you were to think of the Sky as some very inestimable thing, which it certainly is, then these two lines make sense as a sort of analogy.

The next two lines of the poem make a lot more sense once the first two are understood in that way. Dickinson writes that one will contain the other “With ease – and You – beside.” Her use of the second person is meant to draw the reader in to this very interesting subject in a personal way. Essentially, the Brain is a vast thing that contains one’s essence (You), and as this first stanza would lead you to assume, the Brain must be a vast, inestimable thing like the Sky.

The second stanza is actually a bit clearer than the first. “The Brain is deeper than the sea,” Dickinson writes. The following three lines are written quite unconventionally. Essentially, she goes on to discuss that the Brain can absorb the sea like a sponge. The ambiguous part of the stanza is the last line which contains the word “Buckets.” That wasn’t so clear to me at first, especially in terms of a “bucket full” being a rather unconventional and imprecise measurement in terms of the brain absorbing information. 

My professor at the time I first engaged with this poem remarked that Dickinson seemed to be suggesting the variety of ways the Brain takes in information; after all, the poet uses the phrase “inestimable essences.” The sponge concept is easily decipherable, however. One possible interpretation of this stanza could be that the Brain can absorb an absolutely tremendous volume of things – speaking very highly of the human mind. In the case of my own brain, which is perhaps too spongy, this makes perfect sense to me.

The last stanza is a bit head-scratching. The first line of the last stanza, “The Brain is just the weight of God,” is absolutely mystifying. The final three lines of the poem are something to the effect that if you were to somehow lift the weight of God and the Brain side-by-side that they will differ somehow. “If they do,” Dickinson writes, “[then they will differ] as Syllable from Sound.” I truly don’t understand the analogy between those two. It certainly sounds good, and there is meaning behind it to be sure; it’s just uncertain to me what that purpose is, especially with the instability in the construction of the stanza. 

This poem would seem to be among the least frustrating of Dickinson’s poems to understand. With their brevity, one would think that you would not have to look long at them to derive their meanings. But, their appearance certainly belies their complexity. As for a main theme, Poem #632 would seem to speak highly of the vastness of the human Brain. 

Were it to be rewritten with more conventional poetic rules in effect, the poem may make more sense. Then again, through forced revision, many of the mystifying aspects of the poem would necessarily be lost. This poem’s strangeness, its elusive qualities, and lack of conventional structure are trademarks of many Emily Dickinson poems. 

By not following standard poetic conventions, Dickinson writes many interesting, deep, and thoughtful pieces. Poem #632 just happens to be the one that appeared to be most accessible to me when choosing a Dickinson poem for the particular assignment from which this analysis sprang. Of course, the very thing that caught my eye were the first two words of the poem, “The Brain…”

~ Amelia Desertsong

Originally written sometime in 2008, I believe…

Amelia Desertsong is a former content marketing specialist turned essayist and creative nonfiction author. She writes articles on many niche hobbies and obscure curiosities, pretty much whatever tickles her fancy.
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