Study Guide

The Mind Is an Enchanting Thing Themes

  • Awe and Amazement

    Moore celebrates the multifaceted nature of the human mind by writing a mind-blowing, or at least head-scratching, poem. In "The Mind Is an Enchanting Thing," we learn not just that the mind is enchanting, but that it's also limitless, powerful, and totally awesome. Moore's full of nothing but praise for our noggins, so if you're looking to give your big brain a pat on the back, read it this poem, and it'll be sure to beam.

    Questions About Awe and Amazement

    1. Moore doesn't use a ton of emotional words in this poem. How can you tell the speaker is in awe of the human mind?
    2. What's all the amazement about anyway? According to the examples in the poem, what is there to be in awe about? Do you agree or disagree with the poem, and why?
    3. Of all the comparisons and examples Moore uses to illustrate the mind, which in your opinion conveys a sense of awe or amazement most effectively?

    Chew on This

    Moore is so awestruck by the power of the mind that she neglects to talk about its flaws, which would make this poem better.

    It's a misreading to say that Moore is amazed by the mind. This poem is just a thorough, impartial study.

  • Knowledge

    "The Mind Is an Enchanting Thing" takes the time to remind us what kind of knowledge the mind is capable of getting its hands on (if a mind has hands) -- from learned knowledge (like learning to play the piano or writing music) to the more unconscious, natural stuff (like memories and our senses). Moore seems to think the mind is like a sponge, sopping up whatever it comes in contact with. If knowledge is power, this poem suggests that the smarties will take over the world. But we already knew that anyway.

    Questions About Knowledge

    1. Where does the "knowledge is power" idea emerge in this poem? Do you agree with it?
    2. Is there a difference between learned knowledge and instinctual knowledge? Does Moore make the distinction in this poem? If so, what are some examples?
    3. In this poem, do you think knowledge is the best thing the mind has to offer, or are there other, equally valuable things about the mind?
    4. What do you make of the phrase in the final stanza, "Unconfusion submits/ its confusion to proof." Do you think it could have anything to do with knowledge? If so, what?

    Chew on This

    There is no actual cheerleading for knowledge in this poem—only for the mind's ability to gain knowledge.

    Only because the mind can acquire knowledge does it have any power. Otherwise it's just a pile of gray gunk between our ears.

  • Life, Consciousness, and Existence

    Our mind is what keeps us aware (some of us more so after a cup of coffee in the morning). The mind governs all of our choices and filters the massive amounts of information we encounter daily. And it never really stops; it keeps working even when we're not telling it to—daydreaming, telling our stomachs that we're hungry, putting one foot in front of the other. Our mind is the boss of all of that. Moore celebrates both the conscious (things we are actively thinking about) and the subconscious (things we do out of instinct) in "The Mind Is an Enchanting Thing." Basically, the mind is in the driver's seat and we're just along for the ride.

    Questions About Life, Consciousness, and Existence

    1. According to this poem, how much do you think the mind is aware of its processes and how much do you think takes place at a subconscious level?
    2. Does Moore place more value on conscious thinking, unconsciousness thinking, or neither?
    3. Can you identify examples in the poem of conscious actions or thoughts? How about some examples of unconscious or instinctive actions or thoughts?
    4. According to the poem, how do memories factor into our consciousness?

    Chew on This

    Moore valued the clarity of the conscious mind, and most of the examples in the poem refer to that particular part of human thinking.

    What goes on in our subconscious mind (which we have no control over) is more important to Moore than conscious thought.

  • Art and Culture

    It's not like Marianne Moore is giving us a guided tour through a museum or a lecture on ancient civilizations in "The Mind Is an Enchanting Thing." But she is showing us, in a subtle way, how the mind is responsible for art and culture. She mentions two bigwigs of classical music right away in the first stanza and comes back to one of them at the end. She even closes the poem with an important ancient figure. So even though art and culture aren't the focus of this poem, they're a byproduct of it, just like sweat is a byproduct of a basketball game. It might not be the reason you wanted to play in the first place, but you're going to get it anyway.

    Questions About Art and Culture

    1. In a poem about the mind, why bring in examples of art and culture at all? What do they have to do with one another?
    2. Can you find the best examples of art and culture in the poem? Why do you think Moore chooses to include these particular examples?
    3. How is this poem both a piece of art and culture, and a work of the mind?

    Chew on This

    Moore chose to use famous musicians in a poem about the human mind because composing playing music takes a lot of creativity and brainpower.

    Gieseking, Scarlatti, and Herod aren't specifically important in this poem. They're there as symbols to show us what great minds are capable of (or, in Herod's case, not capable of).