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Tuesday March 15th 2011, 9:51 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Betty Mohammad

March 13, 2011

Professor D. Zino

English Senior Seminar 391

“Seeing the reality behind the poetry of Emily Dickinson in: The Brain is Wider than the Sky”

Vision is defined in Merriam Webster’s Dictionary as “a thought, concept, or object formed by the imagination.” In the late 19th century the introduction of the stereoscope, a popular invention helped bring objects in view closer to the viewer through the viewer’s experience of the object. With the ability to view “solid” objects in a 3-dimentional lens, the stereoscope allowed two dissimilar objects to be separately viewed through the eyes and then let the brain make sense and connect the thought and imagination to the image. Jonathan Crary’s Techniques of the Observer argued that it is not merely important for vision to be viewed only for its biological and physiological truth but to also put into consideration the relation between vision and perception of the human mind. Emily Dickinson follows the similar techniques of observation as of Crary’s in her poem “The Brain is wider than the Sky.”

            “The most significant form of visual imagery in the nineteenth century, with the exception of photographs, was the stereoscope.” (Crary 82)  The stereoscope creates a 3-D image off of a 2-D offset image that is viewed by the eyes and then perceived and combined to give the brain a depth meaning of the image. The different angular perceptive of the image makes the image seem as if it is “alive.”  The stereoscope allows the viewer to be able to see an object as if he or she is actually in the presence of the object itself. “[T]hese stereoscopic photographs are so true to nature and so lifelike in their portrayal of material things, that after viewing such a picture and recognizing in it some object like a house, for instance, we get the impression, when we actually do see the object, that we have already seen it before and are more or less familiar with it.” (Crary 85)

            The stereoscope was first invented by Sir Charles Wheatstone in 1838. Wheatstone believed that the angle of the degree in the axis of the eye differed when focused on the same point. He claimed that the human eye had the power to combine the two “different ways it sees” into a single unitary image. “When the object is placed so near the eyes that to view it the optic axes must converge…a different perspective of it is seen by each eye, and these perspectives are more dissimilar as the convergence of the optic axes becomes greater.” (Crary 83) Wheatstone’s invention of the stereoscope helped create a relation between the observer and the experience of disjunct images which can help depict Emily Dickinson’s theory of “seeing.”

            Emily Dickinson is one of the most famous American poets of the 1800s. It was only after her death when her poetry was published and out came almost 1700 poems that she had written, leaving her readers to think of the many hidden meanings and depth behind her work. Her poems vary in range of themes but one theme that stands out amongst the many is the theme of “sight” or “seeing.” After doing a thorough reading of her poetry it is very hard to depict what exactly Dickinson wants her readers to get out of her poems but how she wants them to “see” the poetry is very clearly presented. The readers of her poetry are to be able to vision her words as if they are images that can be seen. Dickinson’s poetry helps readers see objects that are of two different spectrums through one lens similar to the stereoscope.

In her poem “The Brain is wider than the sky…” the reader is placed almost like on a globe where she has to run from one end of the pole to the other end and then somehow come back to the center and make sense of the whole thing. In this poem Dickinson describes objects that don’t really connect but yet when really thought about a similarity can be found within them. Like the stereoscope where the image is viewed though the right and left eye and then the mind plays the devil’s advocate and makes sense of the two images Dickinson’s poem seems to be following in the similar footsteps.

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-

            When she writes her first lines of  “The Brain -is wider than the sky- For-Put them side by side-The one the other will contain with ease- and you-beside-” as a reader what comes to mind is imagining a brain that is so big that the sky seems to be this little blue thing within the brain. If one really thinks about it it seems as if Dickinson is making a connection of what the outside world and the mind share. By her saying the Brain is wider than the sky it seems as if she is saying that the mind’s ability to see things, understand things, and interpret things can be measured wider than the sky. Here is presented two different objects, the Brain and the sky yet in the mind of Dickinson they are similar because when a reader who actually looks at the two not through the physiological view but through the experience of the eye and mind as Crary states, the reader will be able to see the connection Dickinson is trying to construct.

            In her second stanza she says “The Brain is deeper than the sea-For-hold them-Blue to Blue-The one the other will absorb-as sponges- Buckets-do-” she compares the Brain to a sea and the sea to being soaked by a sponge or in a bucket. In these lines you see that she is constructing the brain in the form of an object that absorbs things as a sponge does. She visualizes the brain as how she sees it and then compares it to the sea. She says the sea can be absorbed with a sponge and like that the brain can be soak in all the things it sees and construct things to the way it wants to see it. The stereoscope can be used to explain Dickinson’s view again because here she uses the whole stereoscope theory of two dissimilar images that can be seen together to create a connection and meaning.

            In the third stanza of the poem she says “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-” Here she says that the brain is just the weight of god in other words it seems as if she is saying it is the brain that give god its existences. When she compares a syllable to a sound it’s like saying that a syllable gives a word structure while a sound keeps the word without a form. While looking at it from this perspective its seems as if she is suggesting that God is only in the mind and that it is the mind that gives God an existence.

                Dickinson’s poetry like the poetry of many other poets has been criticized, attacked, beaten through critics to get the real meaning out. Reading line by line each of her stanza’s readers can try to pick up what she wants her readers to get out of her poem and what she wants them to see in her poems. When she writes the words to her poems it’s like she takes words that can have simple meanings such as a brain but turn it so that one sees the brain in a totally different light. A reader may not ever think of a brain being as big as the sky but when Dickinson puts these images in the reader’s mind it gets the reader to look at the brain through a different view. The fact that she allows her reader to take something as simple as the Brain and come out by the end of the poem with such a complex meaning for Brain is applaud worthy. She makes the reader look behind the basic images of a brain, sea, and sky to what they actually mean.

            “In devising the stereoscope, Wheatstone aimed to simulate the actual presence of a physical object or scene, not to discover another way to exhibit a print or drawing.” (Crary 84) The main point of the stereoscope was to allow the viewer to see the image as a “solid” object rather than a replica of it. Unlike the camera obscura, the stereoscope didn’t not want to take the viewer away from the “realism” of the object but in fact bring them closer to it. Dickinson’s poem “The Brain is wider than the Sky…” similarly to the stereoscope seems to bring the reader as close to the truth of the world as it possibly can. The fact that Dickinson constantly does this comparison between two different objects to prove a point of similarity between them shows that she is trying to bring her readers to a conclusion that objects can be viewed through different degrees but with the help of the mind the reader will be able to see the object’s existence past just the physiological view of it.