The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Mind Is an Enchanting Thing” is a poem of six six-line stanzas. As in most of Marianne Moore’s verse, the line length varies in a regular pattern repeated in each stanza. Here the syllable counts vary as follows: 6, 5, 4, 6, 7, 9. That is, the first line of each stanza is six syllables, the second five, and so forth. A subtle rhyme scheme typical of Moore is also repeated in each stanza: abaccd. Moore’s use of indentation further gives this poem a distinctive shape on the page. Lines 1, 3, and 6 of each stanza appear flush left; line 2 is indented somewhat, and lines 4 and 5 are indented equally but a bit more than line 2. In spite of these typographic variations, the poem is composed of eight complete and grammatical sentences (with Moore using the capital letter only at the beginning of a sentence).

As the title announces, this brief poem is an exploration of the mind, perhaps an attempt at definition. The poem presents a variety of similes and metaphors for the mind and its functions of observation, memory, and emotional balance. Forms of the title word “enchantment” appear three times, revealing different senses in which Moore relates the mind to magical attraction and delight. In the title, the mind itself is “enchanting,” that is, capable of enchanting others. In the opening line of the poem, however, the mind has become “an enchanted thing,” a subtle shift that indicates the mind’s susceptibility to the powers of things outside it that it observes. In the fourth stanza, the...

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Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Moore’s talent for the unusual but illuminating metaphor is apparent in the metaphoric range of this poem, and the very abstractness of the central subject, the mind, forces the poet into figurative language. “Mind” is as much a process as a concrete entity, but Moore’s insistent use of the pronoun “it” (ten times) and the very word “thing” in the title works against this abstraction. The tension of the poem lies in this effort to pin down abstraction with precision.

A consideration of mind is perforce a consideration of language, which shapes thought, memory, and emotion. Moore’s poems are always fascinating explorations of sound and diction within her distinctive poetic form. The reference to “Gieseking playing Scarlatti” is probably as appealing to Moore for its sound as for the actual concert she recalls (which, she reports elsewhere, she attended at the Brooklyn Academy in the 1930’s). Similarly, Moore uses both “Apteryx” and “kiwi” as synonyms for the same New Zealand bird. The hard p, t, r, and x sounds of the word resonate nicely with Gieseking and Scarlatti of the previous line, while the exotic “kiwi” is paired with the sounds of w, f, and h in a stanza including “rain-shawl,” “haired feathers,” “feeling,” “way,” “though,” “walks,” and “with.”

Moore’s orchestration of sounds is apparent in her often surprising rhymes as well:...

(The entire section is 570 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Costello, Bonnie. Marianne Moore: Imaginary Possessions. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1981.

Hadas, Pamela White. Marianne Moore: Poet of Affection. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1977.

Joyce, Elisabeth W. Cultural Critique and Abstraction: Marianne Moore and the Avant-Garde. Lewisburg, Pa.: Bucknell University Press, 1998.

Miller, Christine. Marianne Moore: Questions of Authority. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1995.

Molesworth, Charles. Marianne Moore: A Literary Life. New York: Atheneum, 1990.

Stamy, Cynthia. Marianne Moore and China: Orientalism and a Writing of America. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Stapleton, Laurence. Marianne Moore: The Poet’s Advance. 1978. Reprint. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1999.

Tomlinson, Charles, ed. Marianne Moore: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1969.

Willis, Patricia C., ed. Marianne Moore. Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 1999.