Mind in its purest play is like some bat 1
That beats about it caverns all alone,
Contriving by a kind of senseless wit
Not to conclude against a wall of stone.
It has no need to falter or explore; 5
Darkly it knows what obstacles are there,
And so may weave and flitter, dip and soar
In perfect courses through the blackest air.
And has this simile a like perfection?
That mind is like a bat. Precisely. Save 10
That in the very happiest intellection
A graceful error may correct the cave.
Wilbur describes the mind as a lonely, dark, entity with hope for change. Throughout the whole poem he compares the human mind to a bat. This furthers his argument that the mind works alone with boundaries, but has the possibility of escaping.
He starts off the poem by stating blatantly that the “Mind in its purest play is like some bat” (1). Without any schooling or changes to the mind, it acts like a bat. He goes on to explain that this is because it “beats about it caverns all alone,/ Contriving by a kind of senseless wit/ Not to conclude against a wall of stone (2-4). The mind goes around in the same place. It encircles the same ideas as a bat encircles a cave. Also, he speaks as the mind as using a senseless wit. This oxymoron explains that while the mind is intelligent, we encircle ideas that are meaningless to our lives. Also, he believes a mind is like a bat because we stay alive inside the dangerous cave.
In the next stanza, Wilbur continues this comparison. He says the mind “knows what obstacles are there” (6). The mind stays inside its comfort zone with fear of the unknown. Although it has “senseless wit”, the mind does not use this attribute to be imaginative because it is too aware of boundaries. This relates to a bat because a bat knows his boundaries of a cave. It could be dangerous for the bat to leave the cave, but why is it dangerous for the mind to leave its comfort zone?
In the last stanza, Wilbur defends this simile by addressing it to the reader directly. He goes on to elicit hope, about both the mind and the bat. He says that “That in the very happiest intellection/ A graceful error may correct the cave (11-12). He says that if the mind or the bat takes a risk, things will change. The cave and the world can be corrected. He believes if the mind makes a graceful error or takes a risk, new knowledge and imagination will come. Also, if a bat leaves the cave, nothing horrible will happen to it either.
Wilbur passes many ideas to a reader quickly with this simile than he would have if he did not use figurative language.