Thursday, June 30, 2011

[The Brain -is wider than the Sky-] - Emily Dickinson

The Brain - is wider than the Sky-
For - put them side by side-
The one the other will contain
With ease - and You- beside-

The Brain is deeper than the sea-
For - hold them - Blue to Blue -
The one the other will absorb -
As Sponges - Buckets - do -

The Brain is just the weight of God -
For - Heft them - Pound for Pound -
And they will differ - if they do -
As Syllable from Sound-

This poem makes a number of interesting comparisons, which are quite intelligible, if unusual.  The image of the brain compared to the sky, and how easily the brain can contain something such as the sky (or at least the concept of it) and all within the world.  It's a great mental comparison as well, as the image forces one to imagine the finite space of a brain versus the seemingly infinite space of the sky.  In doing that, you've essentially proven the truth of that first comparison.  You can fathom the seemingly unfathomable on a level that is understandable, even if without experience.

Taking the concept of something understandable yet unfathomable, Dickinson applies that same thought to God.  Her assertion is that your the sky is to your brain as your brain is to God.  That is to say, you can contain the infinite sky in your head, just as easily as God contains all of infinity in Him.  The simile, "As Syllable from Sound" is a great example.  Looking at a syllable, one knows how it is pronounced.  But the sound itself cannot be contained wholly within the syllable.  They are so closely related, but the difference is in tangibility.  We can contain and bind a syllable, but not a Sound.  So too, Dickinson asserts, is God.  It's a lovely and thought provoking image, and applies to human life in general, whether one believes in God or not.

Does the comparison speak to you in any way, or is Dickinson just repeating what people have always intuitively understood?  Let me know.

As an added bonus, if you sing nearly any Emily Dickinson poem to the tune of the "Gilligan's Island" theme song, it works perfectly.


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  2. Dear Sir...THANK YOU...I first came across this poem in Gerald Edelman's book, Wider than the Sky, which is a dumbed-down summary of his earlier works (although not dumbed down enough for me), and was unsurprised to find it's use as a title elsewhere (e.g., a PBS show on babies brains, a book on migraines).
    But no where else did I come across how well it could be sung to the tune of Gilligan's Isle...o frabjous day, callooh, callay!

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