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Vocabulary in Much Madness Is Divinest Sense

Vocabulary Examples in Much Madness Is Divinest Sense:

Text of the Poem

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"handled..."   (Text of the Poem)

“Handled” is a verb that means “to exert authority or control over,” or “to manage.” If something needs to be “handled,” it is presumably a problem. In turn, that which handles it has the authority to “right” the wrong. This verb choice reinforces the power and control that the majority has.

"Demur..."   (Text of the Poem)

The use of “demur” also invokes religious themes about the “danger” of doubt. The most important component of a Christian’s belief system is their faith in God and Christian theology. Doubt is seen as the ultimate sin. Given Dickinson’s strict Christian community, the claim that “demuring” from the majority suggests that the doubt or dissention she imagines here is partially religious.

"Demur..."   (Text of the Poem)

The verb demur has several meanings: “to linger or dwell upon”; “to pause in uncertainty”; “to raise objection.” Which meaning in particular the speaker uses is uncertain; however, we can understand it based on its contrastive relationship to “assent”: any doubt, hesitation, or protest against the majority has negative results.

"Assent..."   (Text of the Poem)

“Assent” is a verb that means “to conform in practice, submit, or yield.” Dickinson uses this verb to suggest that there is inherent violence in the conformity that signals one’s “sanity”: one must “yield” to the Majority in order to be seen as sane. Sanity is thus defined as something socially constructed rather than something objective.

"Eye..."   (Text of the Poem)

While eyes allow us to see physical objects, we can also use “Eyes” to mean more figurative sight. One’s mind’s eye, for example, refers to our ability to “see” thoughts. If we consider both of these abilities to see, then the “discerning Eye” refers to an ability to distinguish not only physical distinctions between Sense and Madness but also mental.

"this..."   (Text of the Poem)

“This” is a demonstrative pronoun, meaning a pronoun that refers to a fact, occurrence, or statement implied in previous context. In this way, “this” groups together the entire idea presented in the first few lines of this poem: that sense and madness are the same. However, the nature of Dickinson’s writing suggests that “this” might also be a poetic device called “deixis.” Deixis is the use of pronouns that have intentionally unclear referents which force the reader to interpret the subject of the line based on their understanding of the context. When read through a deictic lens, “this” thing that the majority prevails in is unclear; the emphasis of the line becomes the Majority’s power to prevail rather than the object that it controls.

"discerning..."   (Text of the Poem)

Depending on how the reader interprets the first line, the tone of the poem can turn on this adjective. “Discerning” can be understood to mean having the ability to perceive things clearly, demonstrating good judgment, or simply being able to make distinctions between things.

"starkest..."   (Text of the Poem)

The syntax of this line replicates the syntax of the first line. Because of this, we can read the first and third lines as complimentary inversions of each other: madness is the divinest sense, sense the starkest madness. “Starkest” in this context means the most powerful and authoritative. While both lines connect sense and madness to seemingly positive concepts, “starkest” is also defined as the most “impenetrable, harsh, and violent.” However, the negative connotations inherent to “stark” imbue the second claim with problematic double meanings: while madness is divine, sense can be seen as violently dangerous.

"Madness..."   (Text of the Poem)

The noun “madness” actually has multiple nuanced definitions, all of which may pertain to the reading of this short poem. First, “madness” could refer to literal insanity or mental impairment, likely of a severe kind. Second, it could refer to a delusion, or a wild foolishness resembling insanity. Third, it could mean wild excitement or enthusiasm, or an exuberant lack of restraint. Finally, “madness” could mean uncontrollable anger, fury, or rage. Regardless of the definition, the idea conveyed suggests that madness is behavior outside of what is considered normal.

"Much..."   (Text of the Poem)

When applied to an emotion or other state of being, "much" means "intense," "severe," or "great." However, when applied to a quality or virtue, it means "to a high degree" or "in an exemplary form." Considering the equal relationship that the speaker establishes between "Madness" and "Sense," we can understand "much" to mean something along the lines of "enough of this is appropriate."

"—..."   (Text of the Poem)

Despite the many dashes that could signal to the reader a sense of frantic fragmentation, this poem is constructed logically. Unlike other poems in which ellipse and syntax make it hard to parse Dickinson’s thoughts, each idea in this poem corresponds to the end of a line. Dickinson creates this critique of society using strict poetic control that complicates the poem’s biting tone.

"divinest..."   (Text of the Poem)

“Divinest” is a superlative adjective that means “inspired by God” or “surpassing beauty, perfection, excellence, etc.; extraordinarily good or great.” By this line, the speaker claims that “madness” is the best form of sense; so great it seems almost inspired by God. This hyperbolic claim suggests an ironic or biting tone to the poem.

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