In ‘The Mind Is an Enchanting Thing’ Marianne Moore tapes into themes of human existence, reality, memory, and experience. These universal themes are applicable to all readers from a variety of backgrounds. But, the content is obscured due to Moore’s heavy use of allusion. It takes a great deal of deciphering to get to the heart of this poem.
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Summary of The Mind Is an Enchanting Thing
The poem takes the reader through numerous images that depict the mind through comparisons. These similes and metaphors help the reader understand the mind as something changeable, multifaceted, magical and at the same time fact-based and clear. The poet compares the mind to birds and katydid wings.
You can read the full poem here.
Structure of The Mind Is an Enchanting Thing
‘The Mind Is an Enchanting Thing’ by Marianne Moore is a six stanza poem, each stanza of which is made up of six lines. These lines follow a very specific rhyme scheme of ABACCD. Rather than use a metrical pattern to structure the lines, Moore chose to organize them by syllable number. From the first line of each stanza to the sixth the syllable numbers tally: 6,5,4,6,7, and 9. This pattern, in addition to the consistent rhyme scheme, are a good balance to the strange images that make uptake bulk of this poem.
Something else a reader will notice when beginning the pet is the lack of capitalization. There are capital letters in ‘The Mind Is an Enchanting Thing’ but the poem starts without one. There are also other instance, such as at the beginning of certain stanzas, where the line begins in the middle of a sentence. This use of lowercase letters is striking, adding to the confused, stream of consciousness style description of the mind that Moore crafts.
Literary Devices in The Mind Is an Enchanting Thing
In ‘The Mind Is an Enchanting Thing’ Marianne Moore makes use of several literary devices. These include imagery, alliteration, enjambment, and simile. The latter is the most important of the techniques at work in this poem. A simile is a comparison between two unlike things that uses the words “like” or “as”. A poet uses this kind of figurative language to say that one thing is similar to another, not like metaphor, that it “is” another. For example, in the second stanza where the speaker creates a multilayered simile that compares theming to a bird: “like the apteryx-awl / as a beak, or the / kiwi’s rain-shawl”.
Alliteration occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. For example, “feathers” and “feeling” in stanza two and “face” and “fire” in stanza five.
Another important technique commonly used in poetry is enjambment. It occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. There are several examples of this technique at work in this poem. The transitions between lines one, two and three of the first stanza are just one of many.
Imagery refers to the elements of a poem that engage a reader’s senses. Traditionally, the word “image” is related to visual sights, things that a reader can imagine seeing, but imagery is much more than that. It is something one can sense with their five senses.
Analysis of The Mind Is an Enchanting Thing
In the first stanza of ‘The Mind Is an Enchanting Thing’ the speaker brings the reader into the poem by continuing the title. The line picks up the subject of the “mind” and adds that it “is an enchanted thing”. The speaker sees it as fascinating or mesmerizing and this poem is going to prove that.
Moore uses a simile in the next two lines to craft the first image, that of the mind “like the glaze on a / katydid-wing”. The shine on the wings speaks to the brightness, and shimmering changeability of the mind. Almost all of the lines in this stanza are enjambed. This makes the poem feel more like one continuous thought rather than a series of statements or sentences.
The simile is continued in the next line. The speaker describes the shine of the mind/wing is broken up into parts. There is a whole “netting” of the mind in numerous pieces. This is a very interesting and evocative image that alludes to the multifaceted nature of the mind and how complex and interconnected all the pieces are.
This stanza concludes with a reference to Walter Gieseking. He was a German pianist, incredibly famous in his time. The second allusion is to “Scarlatti,” an Italian composer of the 17th century. This is connecting the “mind” as an abstraction to the very real accomplishments of these two musical figures. The mind is capable of the creations that these two are credited for.
The second stanza is just as packed full of images and comparisons as the previous. The first line mentions a “apteryx-awl”. A apteryx is a kind of flightless bird with a long beak, like, as the second half of the compound word states, like an awl. One member of the apteryx family is mentioned the kiwi. This bird has long feathers that act as a “rain-shawl” in a heavy storm. This bird has all the features of the mind. It feels its way along through like, as though blind. But, in reality it is following its instincts as a mind does.
The same idea of instinct being at the root of the mind is continued into the next lines. The speaker describes how memory has a metaphorical “ear” that can “hear without / having to hear”. This complex use of personification should remind a reader of how memories can bring back experiences, including sounds, without one having to actually hear anything.
The fourth line brings in another unusual word, “gyroscope”. This is a tool that’s used to stabilize navigational devices on boats, helping them to stay upright and on the right course. The mind is as certain as a gyroscope, the next lines state. This is another skillful simile that takes some deciphering.
The fourth stanza brings back in the enchantment and magic of the first lines. She has already informed the reader that the mind is instinctual and steady, but it is also the power of “strong enchantment. It is “like the dove”. Here begins another simile. The mind is “animated,” as a dove, by the “sun”. It is beautiful and filled with its own “eye,” just as it contains the power to hear without hearing. One can imagine something and it is there in one’s mind’s eye. The speaker states that it is the “memory’s eye”. In the last line of this stanza, “it’s conscientious inconsistency” is confusing. It takes the next few lines of stanza five to clear it up.
The fifth stanza of ‘The Mind is An Enchanting Thing’ the speaker says that the mind “tears off the veil”. It strips away everything that is untrue, leaving only what is real in its place.
Unlike the heart, the mind is straightforward and to the point. It is stronger and more able to resist temptation. Th emend is described as something that cares for the heart, it is in a better place to deal with the complexities of human life than the heart is. The heart has a “veil” over it. The next lines consider the truth of these statements and whether or not it is accurate to say that the heart has a face and eyes over which hangs a veil. This leads the speaker to consider dejection and depression and how these things might not be cured by the mind but at least better understood.
The iridescence of the dove’s neck is described in greater detail int he next lines. This is where the “fire” in the previous lines comes from. She also brings back in Scarlatti, the composer from the previous stanza. There are “inconsistencies” in his music, the work is not perfect, nor is the mind. This makes studying it and listening to it all the more interesting.
The final lines are just as complicated as all those which have come before them. The speaker describes Herod, a leader of Judaea is who is bet remembered to today for some less than savoury acts, was incapable of change. This is the opposite of what the mind is like. It has the ability to change, it can learn from its mistakes.