Dec 172002

Henceforth, From the Mind

Henceforth, from the mind,
For your whole joy, must spring
Such joy as you may find
In any earthly thing,
And every time and place
Will take your thought for grace.

Henceforth, from the tongue,
From shallow speech alone,
Comes joy you thought, when young,
Would wring you to the bone,
Would pierce you to the heart,
And spoil its stop and start.

Henceforward, from the shell,
Wherein you heard, and wondered
At oceans like a bell
So far from ocean sundered —
A smothered sound that sleeps
Long lost within lost deeps,

Will chime you change and hours,
The shadow of increase,
Will sound you flowers
Born under troubled peace —
Henceforth, henceforth
Will echo sea and earth.

–Louise Bogan

Two things to notice about this poem. The first line in the third stanza is a metrical miracle. The poem is written in iambic trimeter, and the first lines of the first two stanzas omit the first unaccented syllable. “Henceforward” puts it back in, but with a variation on “henceforth,” accentuating the time shift in a way that is beyond my powers to describe but no less real for that. If you do not hear it then you are not reading this poem, or poetry in general, with the attention to sound that it requires.

The poem says that as abstraction becomes more interesting, experience, that blooming buzzing confusion, becomes less so. One has to be of a certain age and temperament to understand this thought, and most people who read poetry are neither. This is why the several great poems on this theme (like this one) are obscure and underrated.

  10 Responses to “Poetry Corner”

  1. Really, quite exquisite. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Great, Aaron, thanks.

    Even to understand what you mean by "abstraction" asks a lot.

  3. Dear Aaron, you’re such a rationalist. 😉 Interesting that the sensual sounds, produced by abstraction, are so appealing…

  4. I’m very fond of Bogan. She’s been unjustly neglected. Dana Gioia wrote a fine essay on her some years ago, and brought her to the attention of a few people who had not read her before, including me.

    I agree that the metrical shift from "forth" to "forward" is cleverly done, but I find the rhymes a bit stilted in this poem, and it does not match her best work, which relies more on off-rhyme and assonance.

    Bogan’s repetitions are often a delight to behold. Her use of repetition reminds me of her even more obscure contemporary, Robert Francis.

    I hope a few of your readers will buy "The Blue Estuaries," Bogan’s superb collection, which remains in print.

  5. Alan: I have the Bogan collection you refer to. I think this is one of her greatest poems; but which would you recommend?

    The rest of you: thanks.

  6. Well, going backwards in time from the end of the collection, there’s "Night," which contains the title phrase, "the blue esturaries. That’s my nominee for the single best poem in the book. "Song for the Last Act" would be a close second. "Cartography" is a beautiful example of fully rhymed dimeter. "Several Voices Out of a Cloud" is another favorite, though its sentiment has proven…questionable. "Homunculus" is interesting. Ah, there are so many good poems. I’m grateful you’ve caused me to look through the book and think about them again.

  7. Well, I, too like Bogan–and for that matter, Alan as well! I have read and enjoyed "The Blue Estuaries" for about 35 years now, ever since J. V. Cunningham touted her in my Brandeis classes, but "from oceans sundered" has all the awful pleonastic qualities of Fairfax, or of Marvell desperately reaching for the "did/do" construction to grease his way to a rhyme.

  8. Len, you’ve violated what I thought was an iron-clad rule: that anyone who posts to a long-dead thread is insane. I can’t agree about "sundered," however, which I think you are considering only at the level of the vehicle. At the level of the tenor, the seashell represents the alienation from direct experience that one feels as one grows older, which "sundered" describes exactly.

    The "do/did" construction was perfectly respectable in Marvell’s day, as were many other grammatical eccentricities that we now find incorrect, like dangling participles (see Greville’s "Down in the depths" for an example).

  9. Dear Aaron,

    I suppose I just don’t pay much attention to thread life, etc.
    Someone said that makes me a lurker or loiterer, but these distinctions elude me. I saw the comments and simply posted away. If punishment for law-breaking is needed, no doubt God will take care of it. As to the insanity, I’m not really crazy about that word.

    The objection was not to the word "sundered," but to the quaint, archaic sound it has being inverted in a poem written centuries after Marvell and Fairfax.

    The issue of inversion, modifiers, etc.: Leishman is one of our best commentators on Marvell (or he was, rather), and he, too, sees the "did"/"do" chivvying into position (to get to the rhyme) as a serious fault. For a twentieth-century poet like Bogan to use it is weird.

    So I’m not attacking the evolving state (and ours is, too, no?) of Elizabethan grammar. I recognize that Shakespeare’s sonnets are loaded with inversions. Yes, language "grows," blah blah, but it’s Bogan I was concerned with, and what she is doing there is the kind of thing Marvell did. Forcing language to get to the rhyme, no matter what method one uses, is a bad sign.

    I still like her.


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