The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Afterword” is a poem of forty lines divided into five numbered sections of eight lines each (two quatrains, in the English translation). As the title suggests, it is a look backward, but, in this case, over a life still in progress rather than a finished work. It is written in the first person. The speaker, at first, seems to be talking to himself or to no one in particular. By the end, he seems to be talking to a single interlocutor, but the “you” could be the distant reader just as easily as the person across the table. This move from singular experience to common fate is at the heart of much lyric poetry, but here the change takes on material form: The self, with time and age, becomes not merely something else, but everything else.

The first section begins with the most general of lyrical-elegiac observations: “The years are passing.” The speaker observes their passage around him almost as if he is sitting at a café table. A palace facade is cracking and the Holy Family, whether on a relief, a painting, or a calendar, moves ever-so-slightly closer to Egypt. The world is crowded with the living, the city is full of lights, and the astronomer counts up his “sparkling tips.”

The next section shifts from the general to the particular. The pronoun “I” appears for the first time and notes rather dispassionately, seemingly without complaint, that it can no longer remember exactly when or where events took place. The speaker also observes that the...

(The entire section is 609 words.)