The four brief six-line stanzas of “Henceforth, from the Mind” express a sense of the sublimation of passion and emotion integrated into the life of the mind and imagination. Throughout, an unidentified speaker addresses an unnamed “you”: The meditative and contemplative language and tenor of the poem suggest that “you” is really the speaker, addressing his or her interior life.
The first stanza is a single sentence. The first line is the same as the title, and the speaker tells the listener that from this point in time all happiness to be enjoyed will come from the mind. Although the source of such joy may be traceable to material things—which would include the pleasures of the flesh—the future enjoyment of these pleasures will be an imaginative and mental one. The last two lines add an independent clause, making the assertion that it will be the speaker’s thought that will endow time and place with significance and honor. The implication is that such time and place may be present in fact, or in memory and imagination; in either case, it is the mind that creates their meaning.
The second stanza makes a parallel statement with regard to language, asserting that language alone will, in the future, produce the kind of happiness that the listener had formerly thought, in youth, would be the concomitant of passionate desire. The speaker elaborates on the youthful illusion of the power of passion in a set of parallel clauses suggesting the violence of emotions that seem to wrench the person physically, to stab one to the heart even to a sense of dying.
The last of the poem’s three sentences comprises the twelve lines of the last two stanzas. Here, the speaker varies the “henceforth” that has opened the first two stanzas by introducing the third stanza with “henceforward.” The speaker elaborates a description of a seashell, which, held to the ear, seems to reproduce the rhythmic sound of the ocean surging back and forth over the sand. The sound is characterized in an interpolated clause as a subdued, almost suppressed sound that speaks to the listener from profound depths, but that nevertheless marks the changes of time, notes growth and ripening, and brings forth beauty from a state of agitated calm. In the last two lines, the speaker returns from the interpolated clause with two more repetitions of the word “henceforth”; the shell that began the sentence is now seen to be the source of the speaker’s mental, emotional, and cognitive life. From this shell, the entire universe will “echo”: that is, the listener’s world will, henceforth, be one composed entirely of the inner experience of mind and imagination.
Forms and Devices
“Henceforth, from the Mind” has a particularly tight metrical scheme. The basic rhythm is iambic trimeter, with few, but subtle, variations. The first lines of the first and second stanzas, each opening with the word “henceforth,” are headless, beginning with a stressed syllable and containing only five, instead of six, syllables. The third line of the last stanza, “Will sound you flowers,” and the penultimate line of the poem, “henceforth, henceforth,” are iambic dimeter. There is one foot that deviates from the iambic pattern: The antepenultimate line begins with the trochee “Born under,” a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed one, reversing the iambic pattern throughout the rest of the poem. The second and fourth lines of the fourth stanza, however, end in feminine rhymes: “wondered” and “sundered.” The meter is highly regular and supported by a close rhyme scheme. The first four lines of each stanza rhyme in a quatrain pattern of abab, with the last two lines forming a couplet. The only variation is the slight off-rhyme of the last couplet pairing “henceforth” and “earth.”
Such a strongly marked rhythmic and rhyme scheme in a poem with very short lines often produces a mechanical, sing-song effect. That rule does not hold true in this poem because of the interplay between long-vowel syllables in unstressed positions. In the second line, “whole joy,” and in the third line, “may find,” are feet in which the unstressed syllable (whole, may) contains a long vowel: This attenuates the distinction between the stressed and unstressed syllables and makes the rhythm less heavily marked, less “bouncy” than is often the case with a heavily accented trimeter line. The same is true in the second stanza with the foot “you to” in the fourth and fifth lines, and in the third stanza with “wherein” and “you heard.” This device—together with the variations in rhythm obtained from lines that employ enjambment, variation in placement of caesura, and slight differences in line length from headless lines and feminine rhymes—creates a graceful, nuanced rhythm with a subtle music.
“Henceforth, from the Mind” is an example of the plain style identified in Renaissance poets such as Ben Jonson and continuing through the tradition of English poetry down to twentieth century exemplars such as Louise Bogan. The style is characterized by controlled emotion—which may nevertheless be extremely intense—by precision of diction and by little or no figurative language or rhetorical ornamentation. Bogan uses only one extended metaphor: the shell of the last two stanzas, which is said to contain the “smothered sound” that acts as a clock, “chiming” the passing of time to the listener and that will “sound” the listener “flowers.” What these flowers stand for specifically is never really clear, simply as a single tenor for the metaphorical shell is not explicitly indicated: Whether it is meant to be the listener’s ear as the organ of hearing (corresponding to speech implied in the “tongue” of the second stanza), or whether it stands for the whole of the listener’s imaginative and intuitive faculties, the poem does not explain.