Study Guide

Much Madness is divinest Sense— Introduction

By Emily Dickinson

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Much Madness is divinest Sense— Introduction

Get a husband, have some kids, drink tea with other ladies who have husbands and kids. To that, Emily Dickinson said, "Yeah, not so much." Flying in the face of what was expected of your average ordinary 19th-century white lady from New England, Dickinson spent most of her 50+ years hanging out by her lonesome at her house in Amherst, Massachusetts. Oh, actually, she wasn't just hanging out. She was busy writing some of the greatest American poetry ever. No, really—E.V.E.R.

Amazingly, though Dickinson wrote around 1775 of these bad boys, she published very few poems while she was alive. Was she afraid of rejection? Did she know she was way ahead of her time? Many have speculated, but nobody knows. Though she had friends and family who she stayed in touch via snail mail, Dickinson remains a woman of mystery. One thing's for sure, though, along with likes of Walt Whitman, Dickinson is one of the poets widely credited with creating the first truly American voice in poetry.

It's hard to read "Much Madness is the divinest Sense—" and not think that it was directly inspired by Dickinson's rebel life style. It's all about how people who seem bonkers to the majority might actually be geniuses with god-like insight.

Hmm. Wondering why a lady who spent all day writing revolutionary poems in self-imposed seclusion might write something like this? Yeah, there's a good chance this might be Emily's justification for her radical life choices. It's thought that she wrote the poem in 1862, and the poem wasn't published till after her death in 1890. Back then, Emily must've really seemed like a nut-job. With this poem it's almost like she's saying, "You people think I'm crazy, but you're the crazy ones. I'm downright divine."

What is Much Madness is divinest Sense— About and Why Should I Care?

What would you do if all of a sudden everybody around you went insane? Maybe it's a zombie apocalypse type situation where everyone decides to give cannibalism a try… Or maybe all those around you become convinced that they have their own personal invisible talking rabbit. What would you do if you were the only one who saw through the mass hysteria?

On top of it all, what if everybody thought you were the one who was insane for not munching on your neighbors or chatting with invisible bunnies? "Much Madness is divinest Sense—" is a poem that flips the whole idea of what's crazy and what's not on its head. It's a piece for anybody who's ever looked at the world around them and said, "Wait… Am I crazy, or is this all completely nuts?"

The situation might not be as dramatic or weird as a cannibal/invisible bunny scenario. It could be something as simple as you being the only one of your friends who thinks Kimye has finally taken it one step too far. Whatever it is, it's pretty safe to say that we've all felt like the odd one out. "Much Madness is divinest Sense—" reminds us that it's a-okay to dance to the beat of your own drum.

Much Madness is divinest Sense— Resources


Modern American Poetry
Here's a page devoted to the poem that includes a copy of the original manuscript and excerpts of criticism by scholars.

Neurotic Poets
Is Dickinson a "neurotic poet"? We don't like when people explain away genius as some kind of mental eccentricity, but it's an interesting site nonetheless.

Dickinson Biography
Two brief but very useful biographies of the poet.

Dickinson Electronic Archive
This site has promise but is a little hard to navigate. But once you look around, you'll great find links to Dickinson's letters, writings by her family members, and articles by professor-types.

Join the Emily Dickinson group on Facebook.


A Sense of Humor
The New Yorker has a little fun with Ms. Dickinson and sound effects.

Out Loud
Listen to an actress perform Dickinson poems and letters.


Dickinson Pic
New(ly-discovered), old picture of Dickinson. Scroll down to see the image.


The Emily Dickinson Journal
For all you Dickinson nerds, this is the latest in Dickinson scholarship, and you can access each issue online. (You will need a library or university account to log in.)

Emily Dickinson: Selected Letters
Dickinson's letters are amazing, and some of them are harder to figure out than a Sunday Sudoku puzzle. Check out the letters addressed to some unknown person whom she calls her "Master."

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