Describe the mind.
No seriously, do it.
What words did you use in your description? Intellect? Mental? Acuity? Thinking? Consciousness?
We're betting enchanting didn't make the list. But it totally should. At least, according to Marianne Moore. And when you think about it, it's a really great word to describe the mind. It's a mysterious, miraculous, gorgeous piece of ooey-gooey machinery. It's also where we store our very selves. So yeah, totally enchanting.
What's so great about thinking of the mind this way is that it gives Moore a chance to show her poetry chops. See, Moore is not your standard, quiet, bookwormy poet. She lived a wide life, knew all sorts of famous folks, was highly educated (compared to a lot of less-lucky women in her day), and poured all that into her poetry. "The Mind Is an Enchanting Thing" is no exception.
This poem is weird. Why? Because the mind is weird, and frankly hard to pin down. So Moore jumps from image to image to image, using all sorts of strange, even scientific vocabulary, looking at the mind this way, then that way, all with the goal of understanding just what's so enchanting about it in the first place.
In that sense, this poem is classic Moore. She's a big fan of taking Big Ideas like The Mind, and fracturing them into a zillion different mini-ideas that explain the original whole. In this poem, it's as if you're looking at the mind through a prism, and let Shmoop tell you, you're sure to see some surprising results.
We know what you're thinking: that's so modernist of her, all that fracturing and fragmentation. And you're right. Moore is a totally modernist poet, and hung out with the likes of Ezra Pound, Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams, and even mentored Elizabeth Bishop. She and her poetry peeps changed the face of verse for, well, ever, and "The Mind Is an Enchanting Thing" is just one example of her prowess.
Why is one person's favorite color red and another's blue? Why do we wake up some days in an awful mood and others we feel like we're on top of the world? Why are some people good artists and others mathematicians?
Ask your mind. These preferences—our favorites, our least favorites, our strengths and weaknesses—are governed by the mind. What we're naturally good at, how we feel, how we take in what we see and what we learn is all determined by the gray matter between our ears. We know; it's a bit alarming when you really think about it.
And the mind is always changing, remembering things, forgetting others, learning new skills, and sharpening our senses. Without it, we'd be total vegetables. In fact, we wouldn't be ourselves. We wouldn't have selves. Yikes.
That's the bottom line here, and it's the line Marianne Moore's after in this poem: the mind is an enchanting thing because it literally makes us who we are. And how could we not care about that?
Moore on Poets.org
For the lowdown on this highbrow poet.
Moore on Poetryfoundation.org
Featuring a shot of Marianne in a truly awesome hat.
Moore on Modern American Poetry
For a more academic take on M.M.
Moore and Bishop
Marianne Moore mentored a lot of young poets, including Elizabeth Bishop. This nifty site outlines Moore and Bishop's letters back and forth, in which Moore advised Bishop on her poem "The Fish." It's a Shmoop favorite, so we highly recommend a gander.
A 1960 interview in The Paris Review. That's the big time, folks.
On this entire database of literary and scholarly criticism on Marianne Moore.
Get the Ivy Take
Listen to this lecture on Moore from a professor at Yale. And feel yourself getting smarter.
Gieseking Plays Scarlatti
See what all Moore's fuss was about.
"The Mind" Aloud
This dude is seriously ready for his close-up.
Hear the poet read her poem "Bird-Witted." Then imagine that same voice reading "The Mind Is an Enchanting Thing."
Moore tosses one at Yankee stadium.
Floats Like a Butterfly, Stings Like a Bee
Moore pictured with Mohammed Ali. Now there's a pair.
It's No Costume
Moore was a fan of the tri-corner hat and cape-like coats. Why? Well, why not?