The Lost Thought        

I felt a cleaving in my mind
        As if my brain had split;
I tried to match it, seam by seam,
       But could not make them fit.

The thought behind I strove to join
       Unto the thought before, ,
But sequence ravelled out of reach
        Like balls upon a floor.

Dickinson is exploring a psychological experience, which could be either (1) a lapse into irrationality, a psychological breakdown or (2) the forgetting of a thought or word (an experience we have all have had and one which, I regret to tell you, gets more common as we age). You can decide whether she is describing an abnormal psychological state or whether she is describing a common mental occurrence. Don't let the title influence your reading; an editor who prepared the poems for publication chose that title, not Dickinson.

"Cleaving" is an interesting word choice. It means to split, separate, fall apart, often with a suggestion of effort or even violence; it also has the opposite meaning of to stick to or to cling to. "Split" makes clear the speaker is using the first meaning of separate, yet her desire is for the second meaning, for the separated thoughts to fit together. To express this desire, she uses the metaphor of a seamstress, who cannot match two pieces of cut fabric ("seam by seam"). The speaker, like the seamstress with the edges of the cloth, is unable to make a connection between one thought and the thought immediately following it. She uses another sewing metaphor for her inability to connect her thoughts; they are like separate balls of yarn (they--and her thoughts--are not "knit" together).

This poem again shows Dickinson's ability to capture a psychological experience with concrete imagery and her drawing images from the woman's domain, the household.

Dickinson, Online overview
"For each ecstatic instant," p. 2
"I taste a liquor never brewed," p. 2
"Safe in their alabaster chambers," p. 3
"I heard a fly buzz when I died," p. 21
"It was not death, for I stood up," p. 22
"A bird came down the walk," p. 13
"I like to see it lap the miles," p. 27
"Pain has an element of blank," p. 31
"A narrow fellow in the grass," p. 44
"I'm nobody! Who are you?" p. 9
"After great pain a formal feeling comes" (handout)
"The soul selects her own society" (handout)
"The heart asks pleasure first," p. 24
"I'll tell you how the sun rose," p. 11
"Presentiment is that long shadow on the lawn," p. 36
"Success is counted sweetest" (handout)
"I cannot live with you," p. 29
"He fumbles at your spirit," p. 11
"I felt a cleaving in my mind," p. 43
"My life closed twice before its close," p. 49
"Wild nights! Wild nights!" p.5
"She sweeps with many-colored brooms," p. 3
"Hope is the thing with feathers," p. 5
"I felt a funeral in my brain," p. 8
"I had been hungry all the years," p. 26
"I started Early--took my Dog--" (handout)
"My life had stood a loaded gun" (handout)
"Because I could not stop for Death," p. 35
"If you were coming in the fall," p. 23
**Supplemental Reading**
      Sample Midtern and Student Answers

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