Comment on Afterwards
Afterwards was written by the English poet Thomas Hardy. It consists of 5 stanzas, each one a quatrain with an “abab” rhyme pattern. In this poem, Hardy is anticipating his own death and questioning how he will be remembered. He describes the beauty of nature and hopes to be remembered as a lover of nature.
Hardy was 77 years old while writing this poem. People will begin to think about their own death at this age, so did Hardy. Though death is an awful thing, he did not fear about it, on the contrary, he was questioning how people would remember him after his death. So he wrote this poem and imagined different scenes of his death. Following, let’s have a detail analysis of this
First of all, let’s analyze the title. The word “Afterwards” seems very simple. It is an adverb,
describes when something happens. Here, in this poem, it means after Hardy’s death. Meanwhile,
we can also see the title as a pun: Hardy wants to know how he’ll be remembered as a writer. Will
people remember his words? What will happen “after words”? In Hardy’s opinion, death is not the
end. People can still alive after death in another way. He does not fear about death, but fear to die quietly without to be noticed.
In stanza 1, “the present has latched its postern behind my tremulous stay,” it personifies the
“present” as a grim reaper that closes the door of Hardy’s life. A postern is a back door and a
private exit which indicates that Hardy fears his death will pass quietly and unnoticed. The word postern also uses the technique of pun: posterity. It means that death separates Hardy from his relatives. The adjective “tremulous” emphasizes the transitory of life itself, or Hardy’s “stay” on
earth. “May month” and “glad green” use the technique of alliteration and “delicate-filmed” of
assonance. “May month” is personifies as a creature flaps its leaves like wings. The dusty leaves are described as “new-spun silk” which also indicates the fragile of life. In the final line of each stanza, Hardy puzzles how he will be remembered.
In stanza 2, it considers what may be said if he were to die in the dusk. He compares “eyelid’s soundless blink” with the “dewfall-hawk”, a simile that conveys a sense of silence and
suddenness of arrival. It reflects his anxiety that he will be died suddenly and quietly without anyone’s notice, just like “an eyelid’s soundless blink”. Then Hardy wonders what “a gazer” may
think of him “upon the wind-warped upland thorn”.
In stanza 3, Hardy speculates on what may be said if he were to die in the summer night. The “hedgehog” maybe represents all the things he hasn’t done when he is still alive. He imagines
being remembered as someone who cares for “such innocent creatures” and tries to save them
from harm although he could do little for them.
In stanza 4, he imagines to die in a winter night and his neighbors watching the “full-starred
heavens” and thinking of him as a man who knows “such mysteries”.
In the last stanza, Hardy imagines his own funeral bell’s ringing. “A crossing breeze cuts a
pause in its outrollings,” the sound of the bell is cut by a breeze and causes a pause in the funeral, then a “new bell” boom with a louder sound. It’s not the sound of funeral anymore, but the sound
for all the lives.
Each of these five stanzas describes an image of nature and follows the reflection of Hardy’s
death in such scene. He praises the beauty of nature and hopes to be remembered as a lover of nature. We can see from the poem that the time is different in each stanza. There have “May
month”, “dusk”, “nocturnal blackness, mothy and warm”, “full-starred winter”. We can see the
season of spring, summer and winter, and day and night. Why does Hardy describe so many different times? It is the reason that he can’t assure the exact day his death. No one can guess the
time of his own natural death.
The whole poem is talking about the death. What’s strange is that you can’t find a single
word of “death”. Why does Hardy not put the word in his poem? What’s his indication of doing so?
Maybe it is because he doesn’t want the reader feels the “death” is the end. In his opinion, “death”
doesn’t mean that everything is over. On the contrary, someone still exists when he has already died. Hardy hopes that he can be remembered after his death in people’s memory. In this way he
can alive forever. In this poem, he uses a lot of euphemisms to replace the word of “death”. In the
first stanza, the “present” closes the “postern” behind his “tremulous stay”, that means he has died;
in the second stanza, both of “an eyelid’s soundless blink” and “dewfall-hawk” are implying that
death comes suddenly and quietly; in the third stanza, “he is gone” means he is died; in the fourth
stanza, “stilled” means dead but sounds more peaceful; in the last stanza, “the bell of quittance”
means his funeral bell. It also means he has died. All these words turn out the same meaning---“death”. Though we see no word of “death” at all, we know that Hardy is talking about
his own death, and we can feel his intention that death is not the end.
Afterwards is a good example of Hardy’s art. He uses many technologies in this poem like
personification, metaphor, simile, alliteration, assonance, pun, etc. Sometimes, a word can have more than one usage. Hardy also uses the vivid words to describe the beautiful images. He is no wonder a great poet. His last stanza recalls me the sermon of John Donne’s For Whom the Bell
Tolls. These two poets are talking about the same thing---their own death. They are both very old and going to die, so they begin to imagine what will happen after their death and what about their funeral. In their poems, they both talk about their funeral bell and compare the meaning of these two bells, we can find something similar. Just as Donne mentions in his sermon “no man is an
island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main”. So the funeral bell
is not only tolling for one man, it is ringing for every man. Because we are connected to the rest of the world, so people will remember us even after we die, through which we can still exist in the world, we can live forever.