Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Much Madness is divinest Sense

Much Madness is divinest sense--
To a discerning Eye--
Much Sense-- the starkest madness--
'Tis the Majority
In this, as all, prevail--
Assent-- and you are sane--
Demur-- you're straightaway dangerous--
And handled with a Chain--
(F 620)

I have so many favorite Dickinson poems that it's hard to choose just one (although if pressed, I'd have to choose I dwell in possibility), but this poem is definitely on the favorite list. In "Much Madness", Dickinson plays with the tension between sanity and insanity. It's a very fine line, and this poem reads almost like a decent-- or maybe it's an ascent-- into madness. The first and third lines utilize chiasmus to heighten the arbitrary shifts between the poles.

Reading this poem is confusing at times, and the reader may feel lost in the switches between sanity and madness. This was intentional, I believe, on Dickinson's part to further illustrate that what we perceive as crazy and what we deem normal may, in fact, be just the opposite. It's highly parable, full of reversals of meaning and language, and yet so very compact in its language. This poem is an illustration of Dickinson at her sharpest.

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