Sure, we've got the rhyme scheme that we discuss in our "Form and Meter" section, but Moore is tinkering with a few other elements, too, in the sound booth that is this poem.
One of the tricks Moore has up her sleeve is a Shmoop favorite—the awkward pause. The way she breaks (ends) the lines and arranges some of her phrases often brings us to a complete stop as we try to figure out how it all fits together.
This poem is by no means written the way we would speak. It doesn't mimic the patterns of natural human conversation, which forces us to pay close attention and adjust while we're reading. Moore isn't afraid to break lines at "a" or "it," which we would never do when speaking. This makes for a jerky, stop-and-start rhythm and sound to the poem. It forces us to slow down and consider each image, and how it might connect to the others.
And finally, what's with the honors-level vocab and cultural references? "Legion," "apteryx," "gyroscope," "unequivocal"? Scarlatti, Gieseking, Herod? Sheesh. This makes for a very intelligent-sounding poem, but it also enhances the interrupted, stop-start effect we talked about in the previous paragraph. There's a lot going on with sound, and it isn't the smooth cooing of nightingales that you find in some poems. It's the sound of a reader learning as she reads.
The title is a statement in sentence form (without the period). It's totally straightforward. The mind, our speaker states, is an enchanting thing. If this were an essay, the title would be the thesis statement and the poem that follows would be all of the evidence to back up the claim. And well, that's kind of how it works. Even though the examples that follow the title get more and more wrapped up and complex, they stay completely on topic. Our speaker never abandons the original statement made in the title.
The other cool thing about the title is how it runs into the first line of the poem. Most of the time a poem's title is followed by a stop sign: take a deep breath and a sip of your coffee, and then plunge in. Here the first line is a continuation of the title -- all in the same breath. And the first line is a slight adjustment too, saying a similar thing in a subtly different way. It's a very engaging way to begin a poem, for sure.
But you could also read the second line as a jerky restart to the poem, as if the speaker goes, The mind is an enchanting thing—no wait. The mind is an enchanted thing. That's right.
Either way, the title creates quite an interesting relationship between itself and the rest of the poem. It sets us up for what's coming, but also keeps us on our toes. Expect surprises, dear Shmoopers.
It's all in your head. No, seriously—the poem doesn't take place anywhere in particular. Instead, we're given different comparisons of what the mind is like. So if we had to choose a setting, it would be the imagination, which, if you think about it, is actually a massive place. Especially when your tour guide is Marianne Moore. There are no boundaries whatsoever in this setting. We're able to jump from a katydid wing to Gieseking to a dove's neck and back to the memory.
This speaker, whoever he or she is, is an entomologist-ornithologist-psychologist-magician.
Or something like that.
Seriously, this speaker really knows her stuff, and she's clearly quite the observant poet. Down to the finest detail, she observes a katydid-wing, the haired feathers of a kiwi bird, and an iridescent fire of sun shining on a dove-neck.
She's also a bit of a riddler. If you're looking for an exact definition of the mind, you might want to look elsewhere. Because in this poem, she's going to tell us what the mind is like, and what it's not, but she's not going to settle for a singular definition. Oh no. She's having far too much fun.
And when you think about it, that's actually quite wise of her. After all, the mind is complex. It doesn't want to be defined. It's too busy changing all the time—making mistakes, defying logic, learning new things, and becoming something else entirely.
In the end, that's what our speaker is trying to get us to see. She's concerned with the many facets of the mind, not just what it is.
This isn't a very long poem, but be sure to bring your hiking boots, parkas, and (above all) patience. Take your time with this poem and don't get discouraged. It is difficult. But after you've cleared up a few of the difficult words and references, you'll find the whole thing coming into focus. You're game for the challenge, right?
This is not the only poem in which Moore draws information from a number of sources. She likes the bonus-point vocabulary words, and she doesn't discriminate against certain kinds of language or information that we might not necessarily associate with poetry. Scientific references are fair game, and so are clinical and medical words.
Remember, not only was Marianne Moore a highly educated, well-read woman, but she also worked as a librarian in New York. She had access to all kinds of information, and she made good use of all of it. And hey, why not?
Well, you can forget all of that for now, because Marianne Moore organizes her lines by syllable, not by stress. We all know what a syllable is, right? If you don't, go look it up real quick -- we'll be waiting for you here when you get back.
Each line in the poem has a certain number of syllables. The first line,
is (1) an (2) en- (3) chan- (4) ted (5) thing (6)
has six syllables. Moore is a super-organized lady, so each stanza follows the same pattern of syllables. And—drumroll please—that pattern is as follows:
Line 1: 6 syllables
Line 2: 5 syllables
Line 3: 4 syllables
Line 4: 6 syllables
Line 5: 7 syllables
Line 6: 9 syllables
The poem, as you might have already noticed, is organized in six separate stanzas of six lines each. Moore was keeping things tidy, and giving structure to a poem that is, otherwise, all over the place. But as we'll soon find out, she has other ways of creating form…
Poetic magician that she is, Moore makes up her own rhyme scheme in this poem and sticks to it.
For each stanza, it goes ABACCD.
Here's how it is in the first stanza:
This pattern continues throughout the poem, but it's not super obvious when you're reading, is it? That's because she leaves the second and final line of each stanza completely unrhymed, successfully avoiding the nursery-rhyme, sing-songy feel. This poem is about what it means, not how it sounds.
Nevertheless, rhyme is yet another way that Moore builds a structure for a poem about something as enchanting and hard to pin down as the mind.
We know what you're thinking. Big whoop, so she's got syllabic and rhyming patterns. What's the point?
Well, like all great poets, Moore is relating her form to her content. This poem's all about the mind, and two things it emphasizes are the mind's penchant for memory and reason. Rhyme and form in a poem are all about memory. As in, hey, remember that rhyme scheme from the last stanza? Well, here it is again!
And they're also about reason. This poem is chock full of wacky images that bend the brain and melt the mind. But still, we can make sense of it, and one thing that helps us is the repetitive look of the stanzas and the expectation that those syllable-counts set up. When those expectations are fulfilled by each of the stanzas, we can check off a box on our to-do list of understanding. We're one step closer to cracking Moore's code.
We've got a kiwi and a dove. And boy, you couldn't pick two more different birds. Kiwis are big, flightless birds, while doves are small, graceful, and take to the sky whenever they please. Despite their differences, though, these birds come together in Moore's poem to give us a fuller picture of the mind and all its different facets and abilities.
Light is truth, light is knowledge, blah blah blah. You know the drill. In a poem about the mind, we'd expect to see light pop up every now and then, since the mind is, you know, where we store knowledge and all. But Moore uses light in new, exciting, not so stale ways. Let's take a closer look.
Not even close to steamy.