Literature Study GuidesPoems Of Emily Dickinson SelectedMuch Madness Is Divinest Sense Summary

Poems of Emily Dickinson (Selected) | Study Guide

Emily Dickinson

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Much Madness is divinest Sense—

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Emily Dickinson's poem "Much Madness is divinest Sense—."

Poems of Emily Dickinson (Selected) | Much Madness is divinest Sense-- | Summary



The meter of this two-stanza poem deviates somewhat from Dickinson's typical use of ballad meter. While the first two lines in the first stanza and the last two lines in the second stanza have the usual number of syllables, the third line has only seven rather than eight. The first line of the second stanza has only six rather than eight syllables, creating a pause after the word prevail, which comes right before Dickinson's conclusion in the last three lines, beginning with the word Assent.

This poem uses paradox to define sense and its opposite, madness. Much of what people take to be madness is actually sensible, and much of what people take to be sensible is not. It all depends on what the majority believes. If one agrees with the prevailing thought, one is considered sane. However, if one disagrees one may be considered crazy, even dangerous.


This poem is an example of Dickinson's fondness for paradox. Madness is sensible; sense is madness. Yet the reader comes to see both are true. In the world of Dickinson's poetry, knowledge and truth frequently depend on one's perspective. And, of course, this sentiment reflects the way Dickinson lived her own life. As a student at South Hadley Seminary, she was unwilling to comply with the majority and claim she was ready to give her soul to Christ. And as she grew older she lived her own eccentric life, regardless of what others thought of her.

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