Poem 620: Discerning Individual Essay

1264 words - 5 pages

The Modernist poets Walt Whiteman and Emily Dickinson rejected traditional poetic forms and conventional ways of thinking. The topics and structures of Emily Dickinson’s poetry, such as death, religion, isolation, and others, point to her lifelong struggle of maintaining individuality. In poem “#620”, the speaker expresses their frustration with the limitations of society. However, at the same time, Dickinson’s playful and sarcastic narration also appears here. In poem “#620” the speaker conveys their dislike for society through satire, and demonstrates the power of the individual versus the majority through the reader’s interpretation of the poem.
Determining who the speaker is is critical to illustrating the sarcastic tone of this poem. Within this poem there is strong evidence that the singular speaker is Emily Dickinson herself. One can easily read poem “#620” as a justification for Emily Dickinson’s self-isolation. The opening line: “Much Madness is divinest Sense –“ (1) sets the topic of the poem on madness, asks what “Madness” is, and demonstrates the divide that Dickinson feels exists between what society believes “Madness” to be and what “Madness” is to her. “Madness” and sanity are defined by lines six and seven: “Assent – and you are sane - / Demur – you’re straightway dangerous –“ (6-7). Meaning in summary that agreeing with the “Majority” (4) signifies to society that you are rational, while objecting to what the masses dictate causes them to label one as “dangerous”. Line one has heavy use of alliteration with the repeating “m” sound at the beginning, than the four word streak of “s” sounds at the end of the words “Madness is divinest Sense.” This is significant because it sets the satirical and playful mood of the poem, almost sliding over the contradiction in word meaning. Madness is typically thought to mean one of two things: anger or insanity. Dickinson is playing with the ambiguity of words in this poem. This is only the first word with possible double meanings in the poem, options for interpretation run through the poem. By using “Madness”, the speaker is showing that whether someone is angry at society, or being called crazy by society, both are “the divinest Sense.” Demonstrating that the individual is either heavenly or delectable in whatever choice of “Madness” they choose to display. But if one were to assume that Dickinson means divine in the sense of Godlike or delicious, it is difficult to perceive how being angry or insane are “Godlike”. If the speaker were to be Dickinson herself, the meaning becomes ultimately clearer from her biography. One of the first notable confrontations in her life between her own beliefs and authority figures comes from her departure from Mount Holyoke, which was due to her failure to “profess faith” as well as her homesickness (1198). For nearly all of her following life she lived at home, and then self-isolating herself until her death in 1886 (1200), the potential to be thought of as...

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