On the edge of madness

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 straightway dangerous -
And handled with a Chain -

This poem echoes in my mind and has stuck with me since the first time I heard it. I was attending a poetry seminar and we were presented with Emily Dickinson. Our teacher, with smooth features and curly warm-coloured hair, was standing in front of us with sparkling eyes talking about Emily. I recall her face every time I think about Emily, even these days, despite being mostly blurred by the nonsense of monotony. I remember that I was rather disinterested in poetry because I considered myself too rational and strong to be moved by sensitive poetic words. ‘Nonsense’ I would think while sitting bossily on my chair and holding my pen with curled lips.

Something changed that day, something changed in my posture, when our teacher read that poem. I remember vividly how my heart stopped for a second. I said “Wait, how can eight-verse poetry read so deeply into my soul?” My posture on that day resembled that of the painting above. Caroline by Alberto Giacometti, a rather unique painting, it was painted on the edge of madness by its creator. As madness tore through his brain, the image of this woman, rather proud, melted into the canvas with undefined lines. 

Poetry triggered something my brain I had never felt before and for the first time, I understood the love my teacher had for Emily. I understood more of myself too. I finally saw, clear as day, that “Much madness was truly the divinest sense”. I could finally see that I was not mad, as everyone would often describe me. You see, I always presented myself to people as a rational and strong-willed woman, by pushing aside my sensitiveness.  At the same time, I would be moved to tears by a speech in a movie, I would breathe life in my lungs every time I saw flowers bloom. I would notice even the most insignificant detail, like a crack in a wall and imagine a million things to happen, all while I was sitting watching the cloudy sky and daydreaming about the next coffee of the morning. I understood, just like in the painting drawn on the edge of madness by Giacometti, that truly, only the madness in people can define geniality. And I was mad, mad to wish so strongly to evolve from that rational girl and finally liberate my sensitiveness to become the person I am today. 

But I assent, and I am sane, so the world can accept me. I can no longer demur; otherwise, I’m dangerous and handled with a chain.

(Caroline is the pseudonym of a woman (said of easy virtue); Giacometti met her in a bar in Montparnasse in 1958. As of 1960 she started to sit for him, and he painted at least 30 portraits of her. This is a painting he executed in 1965. The poem by Emily Dickinson also reminds us of a wonderful sentence in Melville’s Moby Dick: “So man’s insanity is heaven’s sense.” Moby Dick was published in 1851, - Emily Dickinson might have read it.)

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