Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Mind Is an Enchanting Thing” might well serve as a theme for all Moore’s poetry: the celebration of the active intelligence engaged with the things of the world in the complex play of language and meaning. The poem’s difficulties are of a piece with what it celebrates, a changeable struggling consciousness. The ability to alter and to grapple with confusion are the mind’s strengths, as is its perception of detail, both observed and remembered. The virtues of the mind, Moore suggests, lie not in traditional power but in its ability to complicate and question. Thus the mind pleasurably engages “the inconsistencies of Scarlatti,” while it rends the veil of the hyperbolic heart. The mind resists the tyrannical, as the contrast with Herod suggests.

The poem was written and published during World War II, and the sense that the mind is more complex than a bold Herod would countenance is relevant to the time. Gieseking, who enchanted Moore with his brilliant musicianship, was a German pianist whose continued performances in Nazi Germany led to his being banned from the United States for many years. The “inconsistency” that allows the poet to relish the music while deploring the political regime it came to be associated with is appropriately lauded in the poem. It is only when humans cease to be thought of as intricate finely tuned intellects that tyranny and atrocity become possible. The enchantment of the mind works against such dehumanization.

The poem is finally both an example of and a celebration of the mind’s activity. The intricate nettings of the insect wing, the fine feathers of the odd bird, the rainbow of colors reflected off the fragile neck of the bird of peace are all images for the almost infinite complexities of human thought in action.