Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 668
In the first lines of “Mind,” the speaker offers a metaphor for the mind, comparing it to “the slow overture of rain.” Overture in this context denotes an orchestral introduction to a musical dramatic work. The speaker compares the way the mind moves from one perception to the next, one thought to the next, with the way an overture leads into the musical work itself. The mind is “unrelenting” because it never stops. It is “syncopated” (also a musical term) because, as in an overture, there is a shift to something else, maybe another perception, another subject, or another way of thinking. These lines comment both on the workings of the mind and the workings of this poem, which also shifts subjects.
The speaker continues comparing the mind with natural phenomena. The speaker imagines that the hummingbird and the swallow perceive the world in ways that make sense to them. The hummingbird, for example, mistakes its wings for its heart because its wings are its most strategic asset. Hummingbirds flap their wings from fifty to two hundred times per second and can lift from perches without pushing off. Swallows, which dip and dive dramatically, could easily confuse how the horizon appears to them in flight for what they are doing to it (i.e., lifting and dropping it). This connection between the birds’ misunderstanding of the world and themselves and the human mind suggests that human beings also delude themselves into thinking they know what is real and what is imaginary. When the speaker asks, “What is it / they cast for?,” she anthropomorphizes them. This means that she projects onto them human attributes, in particular the attribute of desire. “Casting” suggests fishing, a familiar enough activity for birds.
The speaker continues her comparisons, noting the swallows’ perception of poplars, quickgrowing trees of the willow family found in North America. The speaker describes how their appearance changes depending on the swallows’ perception of them. In describing them as “making arrangements,” the speaker personifies them, just as she had the swallows and hummingbirds. “Arrangement” is also a musical term meaning an adaptation of a musical composition by rescoring.
The speaker reverses the subject and object of perception. Whereas in the previous descriptions she shows how birds perceive the physical world, in this description she positions the city as the subject drawing “the mind in streets.” This reversal gives credit to the phenomenal, material world in constructing reality. The streets “compel” the mind “from their intersections,” meaning from where lines connect. The relationship between subject and object, perceiver and perceived, dissolves here.
The speaker depicts the mind as an active force that is nonetheless “driven” (though by what readers are not told). These lines are typical of the heavily abstract statements for which Graham is known, statements that are difficult to translate or paraphrase. Gravity has a stake in “all stationary portions / of the world.” These “portions” are stationary because gravity keeps them that way (unlike, for example, hummingbirds or swallows, which can defy gravity with their ability to fly).
The speaker uses the symbolic image of leaves in the November soil to suggest decay and fragmentation. When the “edges give a bit / and soften” they lose their definition and become part of their environment. This blurring of a thing (i.e., leaves) with the larger body to which it belongs (i.e., soil) echoes the way in which the mind also blurs as it changes from subject to subject, perception to perception.
The speaker implicitly compares the leaves to the mind, suggesting that in time both fragment and come to rest in the ground, where they are “all the richer for it.” This last image suggests a picture of a compost heap where the leaves return to the soil from which they came, and the mind returns to a state in which it no longer differentiates the particularities of the physical world, and is no longer aware of itself as a perceiving entity.
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