What is the meaning of the last two stanzas in Schwartz's "The Mind Is an Ancient and Famous Capital"?The Mind Is an Ancient and Famous CapitalThe mind is a city like London,Smoky and populous: it...

What is the meaning of the last two stanzas in Schwartz's "The Mind Is an Ancient and Famous Capital"?

The Mind Is an Ancient and Famous Capital
The mind is a city like London,
Smoky and populous: it is a capital
Like Rome, ruined and eternal,
Marked by the monuments which no one
Now remembers. For the mind, like Rome, contains
Catacombs, aquaducts, amphitheatres, palaces,
Churches and equestrian statues, fallen, broken or soiled.
The mind possesses and is possessed by all the ruins
Of every haunted, hunted generation's celebration.

"Call us what you will: we are made such by love."
We are such studs as dreams are made on, and
Our little lives are ruled by the gods, by Pan,
Piping of all, seeking to grasp or grasping
All of the grapes; and by the bow-and-arrow god,
Cupid, piercing the heart through, suddenly and forever.

Dusk we are, to dusk returning, after the burbing,
After the gold fall, the fallen ash, the bronze,
Scattered and rotten, after the white null statues which
Are winter, sleep, and nothingness: when
Will the houselights of the universe
Light up and blaze?

For it is not the sea
Which murmurs in a shell,
And it is not only heart, at harp o'clock,
It is the dread terror of the uncontrollable
Horses of the apocalypse, running in wild dread
Toward Arcturus - and returning as suddenly . . .

Asked on by erin-oriley

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kplhardison's profile pic

Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted on

My Personal Paraphrase of "The Mind Is an Ancient and Famous Capital":

The mind is immortal and has all the glories of London, Greece and Rome similarly
Ruined, broken, fallen and soiled.

People, apparently the possessors of the minds, are the food for dreams of love
And are ruled by the the gods of decadence and love.

The people ruled by theses gods mentioned above return to dust (Biblical allusion),
Fall into ruin and decay, like the glories of their minds,
Falling into oblivion,
Yet looking for a reality beyond death.

This is because life is not the delusions and fantasies built into it.
Life is not just the heart quickening to the music of love.
Life is the dread terror of unavoidable total destruction
By the unseen yet felt forces of utter destruction that run wildly
To the beginning, the brightest star in the skies,
And turn back again for us.


This is a poem about the apocalyptic destruction of people with marvelous, though unused, minds who believe in the life-controlling power of fate and other mysteries and in fantasies, who will inevitable decay via a destruction that takes the brightest star in the constellation Bootes, Arcturus also called Alpha (the beginning) and takes them, the people with wondrous minds.

The paraphrase of the last two very symbolic and abstract stanzas reveals that the people possessing the minds full of wonders akin to Greece, Rome and London and full of ruins--just like the cities--will themselves fall into ruin, just like their minds have already done, and will thus fall into oblivion. Yet they look for reality beyond death. It is also revealed that life is not its fantasies and loves but instead a dread terror of impeding and inescapable destruction, the same destruction that gallops toward even the brightest star before returning to deliver oblivion to people.

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