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Thomas Hardy's "Afterwards"

Poetry became my passion after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class circa 1962.

Thomas Hardy

Introduction and Text of "Afterwards"

The speaker in Thomas Hardy's "Afterwards" is musing on the ways his neighbors might be viewing him. But he does so dramatically by posing questions about what they might say after he has died. The poem consists of four quatrains, each with the ABAB rime scheme. Typical of Hardy is the long line, featuring six or seven metric feet.

Actually, it is very much human nature to wonder how one will be thought of after one shuffles off the mortal coil and even before that momentous event. Hardy's speaker paints a dramatic portrait with his speculations in rhetorical questions.

(Please note: The spelling, "rhyme," was introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson through an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")

Afterwards

When the Present has latched its postern behind my tremulous stay,
And the May month flaps its glad green leaves like wings,
Delicate-filmed as new-spun silk, will the neighbours say,
"He was a man who used to notice such things"?

If it be in the dusk when, like an eyelid’s soundless blink,
The dewfall-hawk comes crossing the shades to alight
Upon the wind-warped upland thorn, a gazer may think,
"To him this must have been a familiar sight."

If I pass during some nocturnal blackness, mothy and warm,
When the hedgehog travels furtively over the lawn,
One may say, "He strove that such innocent creatures should come to no harm,
But he could do little for them; and now he is gone."

If, when hearing that I have been stilled at last, they stand at the door,
Watching the full-starred heavens that winter sees,
Will this thought rise on those who will meet my face no more,
"He was one who had an eye for such mysteries"?

And will any say when my bell of quittance is heard in the gloom,
And a crossing breeze cuts a pause in its outrollings,
Till they rise again, as they were a new bell’s boom,
"He hears it not now, but used to notice such things?"

Reading of "Afterwards"

Commentary

The speaker is contemplating how will he be remembered after his death. Hardy's speaker is dramatizing his speculations with colorful, rhetorical questions that reveal more about himself than about others.

First Quatrain: The Eternal Now

When the Present has latched its postern behind my tremulous stay,
And the May month flaps its glad green leaves like wings,
Delicate-filmed as new-spun silk, will the neighbours say,
"He was a man who used to notice such things"?

In the first quatrain, the speaker metaphorically refers to death as "the Present"; although he cannot predict when he will die, he avers that whenever it is, the time for him will be the present, not past or future. He also anthropomorphizes the Present, giving it the ability to lock the door on life after "[his] tremulous stay."

The speaker further speculates that he might die in spring when "the May month flaps its glad green leaves like wings." If he does leave this earth at such a time, he wonders if his neighbors will remark about him, "He was a man who used to notice such things." The "such things" refers to the "green leaves" that he turned into wings, which he further qualified as "[d]elicate-filmed as new-spun silk."

Second Quatrain: A Nature Lover

If it be in the dusk when, like an eyelid’s soundless blink,
The dewfall-hawk comes crossing the shades to alight
Upon the wind-warped upland thorn, a gazer may think,
"To him this must have been a familiar sight."

Many times, the speaker has observed at dusk "the dewfall-hawk" as it swoops in and lands gracefully upon the thorn tree that is being blown about by the wind. Now he wonders if when he dies, if he dies at dusk, will the neighbors think that that flight must seem somehow familiar.

The speaker portrays himself as a nature lover and an intense observer. He seems to be unsure if his neighbors have even been aware of his hobby; therefore, using these unanswerable questions, he dramatizes his own interests in terms of his demise. The speaker knows that his neighbors will think and possibly ask something about him, but by focusing on his nature study, he reveals what he actually thinks about himself.

Third Quatrain: Kindness to Animals

If I pass during some nocturnal blackness, mothy and warm,
When the hedgehog travels furtively over the lawn,
One may say, "He strove that such innocent creatures should come to no harm,
But he could do little for them; and now he is gone."

The speaker has often taken notice, even in "nocturnal blackness," of "the hedgehog" as he scampered over his yard. Now he wonders if anyone will think after his demise that he was kind to animals and attempted to do all that he could to keep them safe. Again, it becomes obvious that that speaker’s speculations are simply deeply personal notions that he has about his own character.

Fourth Quatrain: Studying the Mysteries

If, when hearing that I have been stilled at last, they stand at the door,
Watching the full-starred heavens that winter sees,
Will this thought rise on those who will meet my face no more,
"He was one who had an eye for such mysteries"?

The speaker has stood at the door of his home and gazed into the "full-starred heavens" during the wintertime. Thus, the speaker again offers as a possibility that those who knew him at least as acquaintances will remember that the speaker often gazed into the skies and was filled with wonder at the mystery of it all.

Fifth Quatrain: The Church Bell

And will any say when my bell of quittance is heard in the gloom,
And a crossing breeze cuts a pause in its outrollings,
Till they rise again, as they were a new bell’s boom,
"He hears it not now, but used to notice such things?"

The speaker’s final thought includes the sound of the church steeple-bell. He wonders if, after that bell tolls his death, his neighbors may be reminded of the fact that the speaker can no longer hear that bell. Again, he mentions that they will likely remember that he took noice of "such things."

Self-Awareness

The speaker's rhetorical questions all demonstrate what the speaker assumes others might have noticed about him. He thinks it likely that they will have noticed that he was an observant fellow who took notice of the happenings in his environment. However, the real importance of the questions reveals what the speaker has noted about himself. The interesting juxtaposition of self and others provides a fascinating study of the human condition.

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes

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