Week Four: June 11-17

Emily Dickinson: Much Madness is Divinest Sense

ED’s recreated garden with The Homestead in the background



Our second week on Emily Dickinson will continue many of the themes from the first: nature, God and faith, death and loss, gender, love and sexuality, mental health, poetry and language, friendship, selfhood and the soul.  In the past, such terms have sometimes been used to reductively group Dickinson’s poems for thematic publication, but there is no evidence that she herself would have done so.  Instead, as we did with Whitman, we must see these as huge and looming philosophical, social, ethical, literary questions that occupied Dickinson throughout her writing life.  In the poem from which I took this week’s subtitle, she writes:

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—


(Can I commit the heresy of paraphrase?)  Those who see carefully (“discerning Eye” {I?}) can see that what the “Majority” of people deem “Madness” is often sensical, and vice versa.  Nevertheless, you must agree with the Majority (“Assent”) to be deemed “sane,” but if you decline to agree (“Demur”), you are judged and punished, entrapped, dehumanized. This tiny lyric makes an enormous statement about social conditioning and the tyranny of majority opinion, about what it means to see differently, about needing to re-envision what it is we see as pathological, unacceptable, or abnormal. Dickinson’s mechanics and variant forms also challenge us to read, see, and think differently.




Recommended: Create a new test thread in VoiceThread and practice uploading a document, which you will need to do next week for your final exam project.  You may want to view the VT tutorial called “Create” (remember that Tutorials are linked under the symbol with three horizontal lines on your homepage or on Youtube).  You will have to capture screenshots from the archives or download those images to your computer first.  You can always just delete this when you’re done if you wish.



  • Comment on the Week 4 focal artifacts in VoiceThread (closing Wednesday this week because of Essay 2)
  • Begin to think about what texts you might choose for your comparative final (see syllabus for rough details).
  • Free blog!



  • Dickinson poems from the archive, in Franklin numbers/suffixes: 983A, 995A, 1056A, 1088A, 1096C, 1100A, 1207A, 1225A, 1263A, 1268A, 1300B, 1322B, 1345A, 1352A, 1381B, 1436A, 1452A, 1489G, 1507A, 1608A, 1612A, 1658A, 1691A, 1696A, 1761A, 1773A, 1779A, 1788A.


  • Essay 2 due Sunday, June 17 at midnight.
  • Free blog!
  • Think about what texts you might choose for your comparative final (see syllabus for rough details).
  • When you have completed your reading for Week 4, take the Canvas quiz.