Critically analyze the poem "Afterwards" by Thomas Hardy in detail.

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The poet Thomas Hardy was born in 1840 in England. Many of his poems and writings were considered to be quite gloomy and dark, but he was also inspirational in many ways.

The poem "Afterwards" explores the idea of remembrance after death. The speaker poses the question: how will I be remembered once I'm gone?

Each stanza ends with a possible observation which might be given by a neighbor or friend. The speaker is wondering whether he will be remembered as he hopes. These questions show us attributes which he may be proud of or identify with, but he isn't sure whether others also notice these same characteristics.

The structure of the poem, quatrains with an ABAB rhyme, is rhythmic and familiar. He may be encouraging the reader to consider how common death is. The poem isn't really about death, after all. There's no fear or sadness in this poem, rather a comfortable ruminating tone.

In fact, the poem may be urging the reader to consider their own life. What kind of legacy are you leaving behind? How will your neighbors remember you?

The poem is also filled with images. At the same time as he ponders the above questions, Hardy is also celebrating the small details of nature.

Here are some images from the poem:

glad green leaves like wings,

delicate-filmed as new-spun silk

and:

nocturnal blackness, mothy and warm,

These images, and more throughout the poem, capture the essence of the natural landscape Hardy loved so much.

The speaker wants to be remembered, not so much for what he did, but for the way he noticed and appreciated the world around him, taking time to care for hedgehogs and listen for bells.

Perhaps we can also be encouraged to seek out nature and open our eyes a little wider to the creatures around us and the sounds we too often ignore.

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In "Afterwards," Hardy's speaker ponders what people will say about him after he is dead.

The poem has a traditional structure of five quatrains with a regular ABAB rhyme scheme. This rhythmic regularity, along with alliteration, gives the poem a comforting sense of repetition.

Alliterations include "May month," "glad green," and "wind-warped." Another repeated feature that creates a sense of expectation followed by closure is the quote that ends each stanza. These quotes are all imagined memories neighbors might have about the speaker, each one characterizing him as person who loved and felt close to nature.

The poem abounds in nature imagery, reinforcing the speaker's kinship with the natural world and shaping how he wishes to be remembered. Some of the imagery shows the ephemeral or transitory aspects of nature, reflecting the theme of death: all of life will pass. Some examples of the fragility of life include the image of the speaker being "tremulous" and the May leaves depicted as "delicate-filmed" and not long to live. Images can be melancholy as well, such as "my bell of quittance is heard in the gloom," describing the bell rung at a person's death—the gloom bearing witness both to evening and death.

Hardy wrote this poem in 1917, when he was seventy-seven years old. His wife had died five years earlier, and Hardy had composed poems questioning how she—or any dead beloved—would be remembered. With World War I raging and his mortality looming, Hardy reflects gently not on the afterlife but on staying alive through the memories of others.

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This is an interesting poem for a number of reasons. Like much of Hardy's poetry, it is permeated with nature imagery and creates a vivid image of the "dusk," the "dewfall-hawk," and the "wind-warped upland thorn" of Hardy's beloved countryside. However, Hardy is imagining, as the title suggests, a time "Afterwards"—that is, after his own death. The attitude taken by the speaker is rather different to that of most elegies or poems requesting remembrance of the speaker: indeed, the whole poem is a rhetorical question. Hardy asks, "will the neighbours say" what he imagines they might. The poem explores the way Hardy views himself—as a man who "notice[s]" the beauty of nature and enjoys a walk in the quiet dusk—and questions whether after his death, he will be remembered at all, and more importantly, whether he will be remembered as he believes himself to be.

Some of the death imagery Hardy uses is very familiar to us from other elegies, such as the "bell of quittance" which tolls out his life and the "May month" which, as spring always follows winter, will follow Hardy's death. However, the poem is not really about death as such. Rather, it is in part about permanence—the unchanging natural world, with its breezes, dusks, and hedgehogs for those left behind to notice, even when Hardy no longer can. But it is also an endless question which can never be answered, by any of us—how will we be remembered? Do others know us as we know ourselves? Do they really know what is important to us?

Hardy makes no attempt to answer this question. Evidently it continues to perplex him, as it must all of us.

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Thomas Hardy's poem "Afterwards" is an elegiac poem written to eulogize himself.

An elegy is:

a mournful, melancholy poem, especially a funeral song or lament for the dead or a personal, reflective poem.

In "Afterwards", Hardy is detailing his own life so that those who knew him are able to resurrect his through a combination of the memories that they both share.

The meter of the poem mirrors the author. Hardy's gentle repetition of the word "when" sets a standard for which the poem should be read- slow and in remembrance of time past and remembered with true emotion.

The aspect of time is reiterated in the detailing of the passage of spring ("May month") into fall ("crossing breeze"). In the end, Hardy is detailing his own funeral and the recognition that only those who knew him best ("He hears it not now, but used to notice such things") will he care for.

 

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