Study Guide

The Brain—is wider than the Sky— Introduction

By Emily Dickinson

The Brain—is wider than the Sky— Introduction

Get a husband, have some kids, spend all day making social calls? Emily Dickinson would say, "No way, Jose." Flying in the face of what was expected of your average, ordinary 19th century white lady from New England, Dickinson spent most of her 50-plus years hanging out by her lonesome at her house in Amherst, Massachusetts. Oh, actually, she wasn't just hanging out. She was busy writing some of the greatest American poetry ever. No, really—ever.

Amazingly, though Dickinson wrote around 1775 of these bad boys, she published very few poems while she was alive. Was she afraid of rejection? Did she know she was way ahead of her time? Many have speculated, but nobody knows. Though she remained close to her family throughout her life and had several friends whom she corresponded with regularly, Dickinson remains a woman of mystery. One thing's for sure, though: along with likes of Walt Whitman, Dickinson is one of the poets widely credited with creating a truly American voice in poetry.

"The Brain—is wider than the Sky—" is probably one of Dickinson's more popular poems, maybe because it's not quite as cryptic as some of them (though cryptic is fun, too). In it, you'll find some of Emily's favorite themes, like nature, spirituality, and an extreme respect for the power of the human mind. It totally makes sense to us that someone who spent most days in the same house would place so much value on the human brain. For Dickinson, the mind was the window to the great wide world and everything beyond.

What is The Brain—is wider than the Sky— About and Why Should I Care?

You're smart.

No, really, you are.

Sure, you might not score perfectly on every single test you take (um… who does?), but you're a human being with an amazing organ in your skull called a brain. If you don't think your brain's all that amazing, we think you will by the time you get done checking out "The Brain—is wider than the Sky—
" by Emily Dickinson.

We love this poem because it reminds us of just how ridiculously awesome the human mind is. Think about it. Our brains have an incredible capacity to learn, analyze, synthesize information, to imagine things they've never seen. Our brains are the things that tell us whom we love, what we desire, and hey, they tell us we're alive in the first place.

If you ask us, that's one amazing lump of flesh, and we're glad Dickinson took the time to remind us of that. (Do you realize you just used your brain to think about your brain? Whoa.)

The Brain—is wider than the Sky— Resources


Neurotic Poets
Is Dickinson a "neurotic poet"? We don't like when people explain away genius as some kind of mental eccentricity, but it's an interesting site nonetheless.

Dickinson Biography
Check out two brief but very useful biographies of the poet.

Dickinson Electronic Archive
This site has promise, but it's a little hard to navigate. But once you look around, you'll great find links to Dickinson's letters, writings by her family members, and articles by professor-types.


A Sense of Humor
The New Yorker has a little fun with Ms. Dickinson and sound effects.

Out Loud
Listen to an actress perform Dickinson poems and letters.


Dickinson Pic
Here's a new(ly-discovered) picture of Dickinson.

Home Sweet Home
Nice digs, Em. We can see why you might not want to leave.


The Emily Dickinson Journal
For all you Dickinson nerds, this is the latest in Dickinson scholarship, and you can access each issue online. (You will need a library or university account to log in.)

Emily Dickinson: Selected Letters
Dickinson's letters are amazing, and some of them are harder to figure out than a Sunday Sudoku puzzle. Check out the letters addressed to some unknown person whom she calls her "Master."

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