Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Library Way: Marianne Moore and the Enchanting Mind


There are many stories behind the writers, poets and artists that adorn the plaques on Library Way in New York City. Marianne Moore (1887–1972) has the distinction of having been employed by the New York Public Library, one of the sponsors of Library Way. Her tenure as a part-time librarian at NYPL began in 1921, the same year her first volume of poetry, Poems was published. Without her permission.

The words that adorn her plaque on Library Way are the first five lines to her perplexing poem, The Mind is an Enchanted Thing which first appeared in print in the December 18, 1943 issue of The Nation.


The Mind is an Enchanted Thing

The mind is an enchanting thing

is an enchanted thing
    like the glaze on a
katydid-wing
        subdivided by sun
        till the nettings are legion.
Like Gieseking playing Scarlatti;

like the apteryx-awl
    as a beak, or the
kiwi’s rain-shawl
        of haired feathers, the mind
        feeling its way as though blind,
walks along with its eyes on the ground.

It has memory’s ear
    that can hear without
having to hear.
        Like the gyroscope’s fall,
        truly unequivocal
because trued by regnant certainty,

it is a power of
    strong enchantment. It
is like the dove-
        neck animated by
        sun; it is memory’s eye;
it’s conscientious inconsistency.

It tears off the veil, tears
    the temptation, the
mist the heart wears,
        from its eyes—if the heart
        has a face; it takes apart
dejection. It’s fire in the dove-neck’s

iridescence; in the
    inconsistencies
of Scarlatti.
        Unconfusion submits
        its confusion to proof; it’s
not a Herod’s oath that cannot change.


— Marianne Moore


In 1996, the New York Public Library, the Grand Central Partnership and the New Yorker Magazine convened a panel of esteemed lovers of the written word and came up with a collection of quotations from the never-ending oeuvre of literature.

These quotes were cast in bronze by New York sculptor Gregg LeFevre and then laid out as sidewalk plaques on E 41st Street in 1998. In 2003, the stretch of E 41st Street from the New York Public Library entrance on Fifth Avenue to Park Avenue was renamed Library Way.

Today, we celebrate the life and poetry of Marianne Moore — born this day in 1887. Whether it be a birthday, anniversary or publication date of a seminal work, the Bar None Group will revisit these 40+ quotations from time to time — quotations that inspire one to write, read, explore and embrace literature. We last visited John Ruskin.