Study Guide

The Brain—is wider than the Sky—

The Brain—is wider than the Sky— Summary

The speaker kicks the poem off by bragging about the scope of human imagination. Of course, she does it all poetically by talking about how much wider the brain is than the sky. She goes on to talk about the human brain's amazing ability to absorb information by saying that the brain is deeper than the sea. Last, she declares that our amazing brains give us god-like powers and tries to prove her theory with the following equation: the brain = the weight of God. Guess this lady really has a thing for the brain.

  • Stanza 1

    Lines 1-2

    The Brain—is wider than the Sky—

    For—put them side by side—

    • The poem kicks off with a big bold statement, saying that the brain is wider than the sky. 
    • We're going to go ahead and assume that the speaker doesn't mean this literally; it would have to be some kind of giant evil alien brain to be literally bigger than the sky. 
    • So we figure the speaker is making some kind of metaphorical point with all this. 
    • Line 2 sets us up to compare the two things with the rest of the stanza—we're going to put the brain and the sky side by side. 
    • It seems like the speaker is going to prove to us just why she's right about this. 
    • Oh, and before we move on, don't miss all the assonance in these first two lines. See all those repeated long I sounds? 
    • Yeah, that's not an accident; it's a poetic device that helps the whole thing get into a sonic groove.

    Lines 3-4

    The one the other will contain

    With ease—and You—beside—

    • Ah, okay. So our speaker's definitely getting all metaphorical on us here. 
    • She's saying that the brain is wider than the sky because the expanse of the imagination is infinite—it can imagine the whole sky and, well, anything else it wants. In fact, the brain can easily conceive of a billion skies and nothing can stop it.
    • On top of that, it can even conceive of us, the reader, right along with the sky. 
    • (Is anybody else freaked out by this brain thinking about them? We're thinking about getting a restraining order. )
    • Real quick before we move on: did you notice that the second and fourth lines of this stanza rhyme? You've got "side" and "beside." That ABCB pattern goes through the whole poem. Check out "Form and Meter" for the deets on this rhyme scheme.
  • Stanza 2

    Lines 5-6

    The Brain is deeper than the sea—

    For—hold them—Blue to Blue—

    • The second stanza opens with yet another comparison. This time the speaker is telling us that the brain is deeper even than the ocean.
    • She mirrors the first stanza exactly by using the next line to set the point of her comparison.
    • Before we check what she has in store for us, can we just take a second to think about this "Blue to Blue" thing? Okay, the sea is blue, sure. But are brains blue? Aren't they like pink or grey?
    • We're guessing our speaker is getting all poetic on us here. It could be that she's using the color blue to represent anything that's super deep and seemingly unfathomable—the sea, the sky, your blue jeans, etc.

    Lines 7-8

    The one the other will absorb—

    As Sponges—Buckets—do—

    • The speaker sets out to prove her deep brain hypothesis by saying that the brain can absorb the whole ocean.
    • She uses a simile to compare the brain's amazing absorbing power to the way a sponge can absorb all the water in a bucket. 
    • Of course, our speaker can't possibly mean all this literally. If you tried to absorb the whole ocean with your brain, you would have one seriously soggy brain afterwards. 
    • Instead, it seems like the speaker is referring to the brain's ability to absorb information and to understand more and more of the world around it.
  • Stanza 3

    Lines 9-10

    The Brain is just the weight of God—

    For—Heft them—Pound for Pound—

    • The speaker really pulls out all the stops with this final comparison, declaring that the brain is the same thing as the weight of God. Bold move, Emily.
    • Notice that this time she's saying that the brain is almost the same thing as something, rather than saying that it's deeper or wider or whatever.
    • She again echoes the structure of the first two stanzas by using the next line to get us ready to prove the point of her final comparison.
    • Don't miss how "Pound for Pound" also directly mirrors "Blue for Blue" from the second stanza.

    Lines 11-12

    And they will differ—if they do—

    As Syllable from Sound—

    • The speaker seems to doubt whether the brain is much different from the weight of God at all. 
    • If they differ at all, though, she says they differ in the same way that syllable differs from sound.
    • Um, what does that mean exactly? This one's definitely up for interpretation, but here's one theory for you: Syllables are sounds that have been shaped by the human brain to be part of a word. Sounds, on the other hand, can be anything. They can be the raw, unshaped sounds of nature—waves on a beach, rain falling, wind in the leaves, etc. 
    • So while the human brain and God have similar powers, the speaker seems to equate humankind more with structured thought and God with raw nature.
    • These sorts of thoughts probably would've ruffled the feathers of certain religious folk back in Emily Dickinson's day, but it's totally in line with the rebellious streak she showed toward the Christian God in a ton of her writing.
    • So what do you think, Shmoopers? Is the brain wider than the sky?