The Mind Is an Enchanting Thing Summary
Nothing happens in this poem.
For realsies, Shmoopers, that's the truth. This poem does not tell a story. In other words, it's not like, "Susie went to the store, bought a pound of gumdrops, ate them, then went to bed with a doozy of a stomachache."
Rather, this poem is a meditation on the mind. Through a series of images, Moore flexes her creative muscles to compare the mind to all kinds of things: insects, birds, musicians, and even gyroscopes.
Then it ends. Because nothing happens in this poem.
is an enchanted thing
- First of all, we should probably figure out what the word enchant means in the first place. To enchant is to captivate, charm, enthrall, delight, enrapture, fascinate, mesmerize, transfix, etc., etc.
- It's safe to say one of the main subjects of the poem is going to be the mind. It's already in the title and first line.
- The first line acts like a continuation of the title. It's just a fragment of a sentence, so we're forced to look for where the sentence starts, and the only logical place is the title.
- The title and the first line are very similar, but not quite the same. In the title the mind is described as enchanting. But in the first line the mind is enchanted. What gives?
like the glaze on a
- Simile Alert! Moore is making a comparison to describe what the enchanted mind is like. In this case, she says it's like a katydid's wing.
- By the way, a katydid is kind of like a grasshopper. It's long and green and its wings are shiny, hence the "glaze" in line 2.
- So if mind = shiny katydid wing, what does that mean? That the mind is bright? Maybe that it has many colors, or is different and changing?
- That's a good start. Moore's going to give us more comparisons to work with, so let's keep reading.
- But before we do that, we have just one more thing to point out. Did you notice the rhyme? It's subtle, what with all the indentations and enjambment, but there's a rhyme here. Wing, from line 3, rhymes with thing from line 1. Keep your eye out for more.
subdivided by the sun
till the nettings are legion.
- Line 4 is still part of the katydid sentence, so it's continuing that simile. So think of the shine on the wing broken up into a bunch of different shiny pieces until there's this huge sparkling web, or netting. That's the image Moore is getting at, more or less.
- Vocab alert: legion means great in number. In this case it means all those shiny things, first separated ("subdivided") but all in the same place.
- If we apply this crazy image to making sense of the mind, it could mean that the mind has a bunch of different pieces that make up a whole, splendid thing.
- Aha! And another rhyme is afoot. They may not look alike, but sun and legion totally match.
Like Gieseking playing Scarlatti;
- Um… who playing what? Walter Gieseking was a German pianist from the early 20th century. Think of him as the Lebron James of the piano world.
- And Scarlatti? That's Domenico Scarlatti, an Italian composer from the 17th century. Also quite the talent.
- If you put them together, you'll find someone incredibly talented playing the music of someone else incredibly talented. In other words: musical magic.
- But what does the mind have to do with all of this? It's hard to say exactly, but it could mean something about the unlimited creative resources of a great mind. Where do creative juices come from, anyway?
- This line doesn't seem to rhyme with anything so far, but now that we've read the whole stanza, we can come up with a rhyme scheme: ABACCD. Let's see if that pattern repeats in any of the future stanzas.
- For more on this formal stuff, check out our "Form and Meter" section, and then head on back here to the summary.
like the apteryx-awl
as a beak, or the
- An apteryx is a flightless bird from New Zealand, with a long neck, long beak, and stout legs.
- An awl is a pointed tool used for poking holes, usually in leather.
- In a very sophisticated (read, complex) way, Moore is comparing this bird's beak to an awl because they look similar. In other words, they're sharp and pointy, and she's using a simile to compare the way those objects look to the mind itself.
- We'll have to wait to see how the bird's beak is related to the mind. It looks like Moore is winding up for another example, and we just have to read on to unravel it.
of haired feathers, the mind
- The simile continues; now it's taking up four lines. The hog.
- Kiwi as in bird, not as in fruit. Kiwi birds are actually members of the apteryx family, and they're native to New Zealand, too. (In fact, people from New Zealand are often referred to as kiwis.)
- She describes the long feathers on the bird like a shawl that protects it from rain.
- But the syntax is getting a bit tricky here, so we'll have to keep reading to see just how this relates to the mind.
- And since line 11 ends with the enjambment of "the mind," just hanging there, we're betting the answer's coming soon.
feeling its way as though blind,
walks along with its eyes on the ground.
- Ah, here's the answer we've been looking for—the other half of the simile. The mind acts like the bird.
- How so? Well, just like the apteryx/kiwi, the mind moves along instinctively. The bird walks with its eyes on the ground as though blind, but it isn't blind at all. It's just following its instincts, presumably toward food. It's using the beak to find that food, and using its feathers to protect itself from the elements. It's an evolutionary marvel—kind of like the mind.
- Let's review how many comparisons we have so far, and what they mean in a nutshell:
- We have the bright and multitudinous mind that's like the image of the shiny bird's wing broken up into a zillion pieces. We have the ultra-creative mind of the famous musicians. And we have instinctive mind of the bird.
- And we have two stanzas that have the same structure of indentations and rhymes.
- Moving right along, then.
It has memory's ear
that can hear without
having to hear.
- No, in case you were wondering, this is not a riddle. But it is some wrapped-up language. Let's unravel it.
- Basically, this is the same instinct idea from the previous lines.
- Though memory can't actually hear anything, it can imagine hearing, and that imagining is just as powerful as the sense of hearing itself. And the mind has that power, which Moore tells us in a metaphor.
- If you think about it, it's totally true, too. We can hear all kinds of things in our memories. Like right now—imagine the sound of a car alarm. You can literally hear it in your head because you've heard it before (and we bet it's just as annoying in your memory as it is in real life).
- So the mind is powerful like memory because it has the instinctive power to do all kinds of stuff. Neat, huh?
Like the gyroscope's fall,
- A gyroscope is a tool that can spin crazily fast and is usually used to provide stability in navigation devices on boats, for example, where things are really unsteady. They also use them on those crazy Segway scooters, which is how everyone manages to stay upright, despite the fact that they're leaning all over the place.
- And unequivocal means "leaving no doubt about it."
- These lines address the certainty of the mind, as opposed to the ambiguity or the uncertainty of it. In other words, just as a gyroscope's fall is certain, so is the mind. Oh, and in case you were wondering, that's yet another simile.
because trued by regnant certainty,
- If regnant sounds a bit like the word reign to you, well, pat yourself on the back for being on the right track. Regnant is etymologically related to reign, and it means dominant or having a big influence. Like, say, a king or queen.
- And trued? Well that's a bit tougher. Usually we think of the word true as an adjective. But here it's being used as a verb. To true something means to align something, to set it right for a particular situation.
- So in this case, dominant certainty is righting the mind, so to speak. It's setting the mind up for whatever it needs to do.
- Hmm. That whole certainty thing sounds familiar. Yep, it seems to continue to emphasize the "no doubt about it" side of the mind, just as lines 16 and 17 did with that whole gyroscope thing.
- Taken together, both lines seem to tell us that even though there are a million forces spinning the mind around, the mind always lands certainly.
it is a power of
strong enchantment. It
- And because it lands so certainly, "it is a power of strong enchantment."
- Our speaker brings us out of the examples of what the mind is like to make a simple, declarative statement: the mind is powerful and fills us with delight and excitement, and maybe even a little magic.
- This break from all the comparisons arrives pretty far along in the poem. Moore really makes us work through the figurative stuff before taking a breath and writing these two straightforward lines.
- Don't get too comfy, though; the end of line 20 hints that she's probably going to launch right back into "it."
- Plus, there is something a bit funky about these lines. Notice that she doesn't say the mind has the power of enchantment. It is the power. So rather than being just a thing here (as it was earlier in the poem), the mind is now a power.
- Which makes sense in a way. After all, the word "enchantment" is a pretty powerful one, don't you think? Just reading it makes us feel like we are under some kind of spell. It reminds us of magic, and magic (to us) seems to be more about uncertainty than certainty.
is like the dove-
neck animated by
sun; it is memory's eye;
- Line 21 breaks (ends) at an interesting spot. It reads that the mind is like the dove, which could mean a whole bunch of things—that the mind is peaceful, graceful, beautiful, or that it can fly. But that hyphen at the end of the line tells us that the simile ain't over yet. There's more.
- Turning to the next line, we see that our speaker means dove-neck, and that this dove-neck is animated (or brought to life) by the sunlight. This is a very pretty and very specific image. So Moore is saying that the mind is a beautiful thing. And not just Russell Crowe's mind, either.
- The last part of line 23 brings us another metaphor. What is memory's eye?
- Well, if we connect it back to lines 13-15, we might say that the mind can see things even when it's not literally seeing.
- Let's try this out. Close your eyes. Now see the Statue of Liberty. You totally can, right? Your eyes have seen about a billion pictures of the thing, so of course your mind can remember it, and call that visual image up whenever it likes.
it's conscientious inconsistency.
- For the second time, our speaker tries out a straightforward statement. Sure, it's confusing, but at least it's not covered up in comparisons and metaphors.
- Conscientious means diligent, or wanting to do a good job at something. Inconsistent means not getting the same result every time.
- So what do these two things mean together in relation to the mind? That it's diligent about being unpredictable? It's being inconsistent, but hey, at least it's trying hard?
- This short little three-word line is a bit of a mind-bender. But the mind is plenty bendy, so we'll cut Moore some slack and keep right on reading. Maybe she'll clear things up in the next stanza.
It tears off the veil; tears
the temptation, the
mist the heart wears,
- In other words, the mind strips everything down to what it truly is. No hooey, no fluff—just the truth.
- Our speaker now talks about the mind and its relation to the heart, and the mind comes out much stronger, and much clearer. It's not hiding behind a veil.
- In fact, the mind almost takes care of the heart, cleaning up the foggy mist that the heart wears like a jacket or sweater. If the heart wears a mist, it probably can't see very well.
- Our speaker is also sitting pretty comfy in that declarative mode we talked about earlier. Now she's saying what the mind is or does, rather than the comparative mode, where she says what the mind is like.
- The idea here seems to be that the mind can see through what the heart can't. Maybe she's pointing to the fact that the heart is what we associate emotions with, while the mind is all about reasoning and thoughts.
from its eyes—if the heart
has a face; it takes apart
dejection. It's fire in the dove-neck's
- The beginning of line 28 connects to the previous lines about the heart. Our speaker has said that the mind tears the veil from the eyes of the heart. Then she ponders for a moment about whether or not the heart has a face to even hold those eyes in the first place. To which we say, good question.
- Dejection is a sad, depressed state. If the mind takes it apart, as our speaker writes, that doesn't necessarily mean it destroys it, but maybe it tries to make sense of it.
- At the end of line 30 our speaker returns to the dove's neck from lines 21-22. Notice how she doesn't put the "dove" and the "neck" on two different lines this time. It's a bit clearer now what she's talking about.
- So the mind tries to make sense of depression, and we're looking at the dove-neck metaphor once again. Bring on the finale, speaker. We are so ready to find out what that dove neck is all about.
iridescence; in the
- This is where our speaker starts to throw down some really cool stuff. She's bringing out the fireworks.
- She revisits the dove-neck, the inconsistency, and Scarlatti. Sweet.
- And what does she do with that dove-neck? She amps up the image. Not only is the sun bringing the dove-neck to life, but also now the iridescence (the shiny colors in the feathers) seems to be on fire.
- The inconsistency, which earlier in the poem our speaker used to talk directly about the mind, is now being applied to Scarlatti—the composer we were introduced to at the beginning of the poem. And there's fire in those inconsistencies.
- Interesting that she should praise the inconsistencies of such a talented and near-perfect composer. Maybe she's suggesting that it's a good thing that the mind isn't boring and predictable all the time.
- The speaker creates a swirling, gyroscope-like motion in this stanza that mimics the diversity and activeness of the mind and its ability to make a ton of connections very quickly. Everything is building toward the close of the poem.
its confusion to proof […]
- Just when we were swirling happily toward the end of the poem, our speaker jerks us out of our whirlwind with another riddle-like statement.
- Unconfusion, first of all, isn't even a word, but we wish it were. Let's say it means the opposite of confusion… so, clarity.
- Submit means to give in willingly.
- So this statement is phrased in a backwards kind of way. What it means is that in order for unconfusion to be confusion-free, it relies on proof or facts.
- This is a nod toward ways in which the mind can be rational. Remember the heart vs. mind part of the poem? The heart is in charge of feelings, but the mind is in command of the facts.
not a Herod's oath that cannot change.
- Uh, guys? Who's Herod? Don't worry; Shmoop's got you covered.
- Herod was an ancient leader in Judaea. He had a pretty checkered past, and let's just say he wasn't the nicest man-in-charge ever. As history tells it, he couldn't learn from his mistakes, which led to his downfall.
- An oath, of course, is a promise.
- So what is Herod doing in the last line of this poem about the mind?
- Well, Herod may have been unable to change, but the mind is not like him. It can change, and our speaker has been praising that fact throughout the entire poem.
- The most jarring part of this last phrase is that it's not set up like all of the others before it. Throughout the poem, our speaker begins the comparisons with "it is," but in the last line she flips things around with "it's not."
- This makes us stop and pay attention, especially given the momentum that had been building up to the end of the poem. It's a complete halt that makes us work mentally all the way to the end, which is the perfect way to end a poem about the mind.
- And the best part is, this ending means that the mind can learn from its mistakes. Which is awesome news for us normal folks.