Much Madness in Divinest Sense

by Emily Dickinson


What the world considers to be senseless is the excellent knowledge to a wise man. And what the world accepts as sensible is absolutely foolish to a critical person. The majority of the people find wisdom in foolish things, and this idea is popular. If you agree with the majority, you are sane, and if you disagree then you are considered to be the mad and they will imprison you immediately.

The poem says that what the work (a piece of art) considered to be madness is the supreme wisdom to a man of careful judgment and what is the wisdom to many people is completely nonsense to a wise man. The poet persona, expects that it is all a game of majority. If you agree with what the mass, society or the majority says, then you are considering being sane. But if you don’t agree with what the majority says, then you are declared abnormal and dangerous. The result is you will be tied with chains and put into an asylum or prison.

The poem Much Madness is Divinest Sense by Emily Dickinson can be interpreted as a strong voice of protest against the system that follows the rules of majority even it is wrong and disregards the minority even if it is right. But for Dickinson it is the truth that is more important than the number of people for or against it. The poem is a strong voice of individuality and personal freedom. Dickinson despises (dislikes) the life of the frogs that croak in the same tone without understanding what the sound really means. The poet expresses her anger towards the society for curtailing (limiting) the right and freedom of an individual. She is clearly unhappy with the system in which you have to except even something fundamentally illogical simply because that is accepted by the majority.

In one sense, the poetess is defending her own position and her isolated way of life. “Much Madness . . .” is sophisticated and wittily ironic, as well as scornful towards the society and its systems of conformity. There is no room for individuality. The poem expresses a strong feeling of personal suffering. The discerning eye represents the person who sees that choosing what the world calls sense may produce emptiness, or waste, or pretension, all of which are madness to a sensitive person. The poet expresses an increasingly mocking anger. The first three lines are illustrating the daring of independent souls. The last three lies showing how they are restricted. The middle two lines provide the transition from the personal to the social level. The last three lines imply the brutal forces that the majority uses to hold people in line.

This poem by Emily Dickinson can be compared to the poem “The Lunatic” by the great Nepali poet Laxmi Prasad Devkota. In that poem Devkota prefers to be called a lunatic (mad) rather than accepts the fake (believe) notion of the majority. Dickinson also speaks in the same line. The majority of average intelligence cannot even differentiate the mentally retarded and the genius. Therefore, the poem is a bitter satire against the society that considered people Dickinson and Devkota as mad. It wipes out as mad. If wipes out the traditionally drawn line that differentiates the sensible and the senseless, and tries to redefine what madness is?

The poem is brilliantly constructed, with the first three lines illustrating the daring of independent souls, the last three lines showing how they are restricted, and the middle two lines providing the transition form the personal to the social level. This poem ritualizes the internalization of social bondage.

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