Day 18 – 30 Days, 30 Readings: Emily Dickinson, 556 “The Brain Within its Groove”

brains! (Photo credit: cloois)

Today’s poet, much like yesterday’s could be called a formalist, mostly because of her consistent use of rhyme and meter. Both Dickinson and Wilbur were fond of slant rhyme, but Miss Emily, it seems, more so. However, she was anything but traditional for her day. Heck, she’s not that traditional for our day, now that I think of it. There is much I could say about Emily Dickinson, but it is nearing midnight of Day 18 of my 30 Day challenge, so I’ll try to cut the chatter.

Emily was a master of what she called telling it “slant.” Her choice of diction, her syntax, her crazy punctuation, and profuse capitalization of nouns all put her outside the norm for her day, even if the skeleton of what appeared on paper resembled the lyrics from a protestant hymn book. These eccentricities of style were also why her first mass published and popular poems (after her death) were edited and altered in ways that made them only a shadow of her originals. Apparently her family and her the editor felt that her poems needed repair in order to be accepted by the masses.

It was Thomas Johnson’s edition in 1955, that’s right–1955, that restored all her wonderful dashes and word choices. If you own a copy of what is called The Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson, throw it out, or at least  do as I did; on the inside cover, write that these are not the originals, and are only kept to show what butchering was done. It’s not that I am against editing. Hell, most of my own editing is done with a knife rather than a pen, but when I’m gone… it’s time to leave my words alone, fallible, incomplete maybe, but my own. Besides I know I chose those words carefully, those line endings, those dashes, so please don’t bugger them up when I am dead. Thanks.

As for tonight’s poem, like Wilbur’s from yesterday, it also concerns the human Brain. We can talk about interpretation later, though as we’ve discussed, I am making certain interpretation decisions already in how it is presented in the video. But do you see her “Splinter” and “Swerve” as entirely negative in comparison to Wilbur’s “graceful error?” Or is there a positive possibility? Both poets, I must say, were not the least bit afraid of ambiguity. And by that I do not mean that you can make their poems mean whatever you wish, only that there are multiple possibilities of meaning, and it’s more fun not to have to pin these riddles down. Isn’t it?

Oh, and here are some great ideas from the Emily Dickinson Museum to help you while you read Miss Emily’s poems.

I should add that a certain aspect of this video was in answer to a friendly challenge by Mr. Stephen Kellog. I wasn’t sure it worked, but he seems to like it. There are other things that I might regret about this short video, but it was an experiment. Sometimes experiments bring good results and sometimes…


The Brain, within its Groove
Runs evenly—and true—
But let a Splinter swerve—
‘Twere easier for You—

To put a Current back—
When Floods have slit the Hills—
And scooped a Turnpike for Themselves—
And trodden out the Mills—

27 Replies to “Day 18 – 30 Days, 30 Readings: Emily Dickinson, 556 “The Brain Within its Groove””

  1. David,
    Bravo on this read and making the video fit the poem. Not a stretch at all fitting the upside-down video into this reading! Challenge nicely met!
    She definitely shows the power a few words can have.

    Good choice and I enjoyed the commentary at the top as well.




    1. Thank you, Stephen! I was hoping you’d be the first to see it. I edited the commentary just a tad, including the fact that I wasn’t sure if this experiment worked. Thanks for your vote of confidence. I’m glad I pulled it off!


    1. All great poets, John. You have good taste. My mother once told me, “David, you can always spot a well-informed man; his views will be the same as yours.”


  2. Cleverly done. Emily really knew how our brains can run amok! When our thought run away with themselves there is no stopping them..


    1. Thank you, so much. I have some errands to do, but I did not forget your questions earlier. I’ll find some time this week, and help however I can.


  3. Emily Dickinson is another favourite of mine, although I am conscious of knowing too little about her life to fully understand the context of any but the most famous of her poems. Such a complex writer requires a little study (which you have clearly done) in my view but in the meantime I will just enjoy the words…


    1. And I think you can do that, enjoy the words, without knowing much about the poet, especially in this case. Thanks for reading! I will probably do a small series on her after this month sometime.


  4. Stopping by to say thank you for this post. I have been in hibernation so I am furiously catching up on reading and writing…and Emily is someone I hadn’t caught up with but was on my mental list! I so appreciate all of your knowledge and your sharing! I am also inspired by your videos. Am going to purchase a microphone for my next writers group meeting so that I can practice reading in style. So thankful for your blog,


    1. I simply cannot express how much a message like this means to me. I am so glad that we are getting past the age of reading only to each other in our little rooms apart from the rest of the world. Poetry in the full light of day, no longer a dying art– that is my dream. 🙂 Thank you for helping to make it come true.


  5. I love ED’s poetry. She is one of the poets (along with Adrienne Rich and Anne Sexton) whose books of poetry I refuse to buy for the simple reason that I love to come across their work serendipitously. I like to write replies to ED’s poems.



    1. Oh, what a great idea! Replies to the poems that speak to you? I shall have to give that a go. Thanks for the idea, and thank you for stopping by and giving such excellent input.


  6. I love Thomas Wentworth Higginson’s description of Emily Dickinson the first time they met:

    “After a little delay, I heard an extremely faint and pattering footstep like that of a child, in the hall, and in glided, almost noiselessly, a plain, shy little person, the face without a single good feature, but with eyes, as she herself said, “like the sherry the guest leaves in the glass,” and with smooth bands of reddish chestnut hair. She had a quaint and nun-like look, as if she might be a German canoness of some religious order, whose prescribed garb was white piqué, with a blue net worsted shawl. She came toward me with two day-lilies, which she put in a childlike way into my hand, saying softly, under her breath, “These are my introduction,” and adding, also, under her breath, in childlike fashion, “Forgive me if I am frightened; I never see strangers, and hardly know what I say.”

    To me, Emily Dickinson was one of the most beautiful women who ever lived.


    1. Yes, it’s been a while since I read that introduction, but not the full one that you just gave. Thank you for writing it here. I have always adored her.


  7. Where once were Mills, the Earth
    Is sculpted – and the Hand
    Wrought silence in my Hearth
    That once drowned all the Land –

    My Mind is still – unmoved –
    Yet easier for Me
    To keep it splinterless – unswerved –
    Than set its Beauty free –


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