“Afterwards” by Thomas Hardy Essay
“Afterwards” by Thomas Hardy
‘Afterwards,’ by Thomas Hardy, is a poem that questions the way that people will look upon the narrator after his death. It centre’s around the idea of ‘noticing things,’ showing the narrators precision and the ambivalence of his neighbours. Hardy gets this across by the techniques that he uses, and the detailed descriptions which show the full extent of what the narrator has noticed. The poem shows the complexity of nature, and describes the cycle of life.
The first stanza begins by personifying the ‘Present,’ which is very appropriate as the poem is concerned by the aliveness of the surroundings that it is describing. The reference to the back gate suggests closure, and is a very precise way of describing the end of the narrator’s life. This sense of closure is also demonstrated in the structure of the poem, which is self-contained in its alternate rhyming quatrains. It has a rhyming pattern of abab, which means that the poem is soft and pleasing to hear, reflects the quietness of nature and goes along with the idea of the man being gentle and ‘tremulous’. It is also pleasing to the eye as each stanza loosely mirrors the previous one. However the number of syllables varies in each line, which means the poem is not constrained by its structure. This is fitting to the content of the poem as there are references to birds, and flying which has the connotations of freedom.
An example of this is, ‘And the May month flaps its glad green leaves like wings.’ This animal imagery is totally un-restrictive, as well as painting a very bright and vibrant picture of the season that he is describing. The alliteration, combined with each line only having one syllable helps to achieve the bouncing, jolly effect. The line also shows enjambment from the first line that is a technique carried on throughout the poem, adding to the overall continuity. The month of May is also described as being ‘delicate-filmed as new spun silk.’ This simile gives a very precise description of the beauty of spring, comparing it to a shiny new fabric, and giving it an almost transparent quality. There are also the connotations of value and exquisiteness.
The second stanza moves consecutively from daytime to dusk, using appropriate language to describe the time. Hardy is precise in describing the moment the hawk lands as like ‘an eyelids soundless blink.’ This has the combined effect of conveying both the visual swiftness of movement, and also the quietness of the moment. He manages to create an eerie tone by using the word ‘shades,’ which gives the impression that there are many shadows and it is not very easy to see. The eerie tone is continued by the ‘wind-warped upland thorn,’ in which the plosive ‘R’ sound adds to the feeling of rustiness. It shows that the narrator does not only appreciate the bright beauty of the day time, but the more mystical quality of the evening, therefore noticing the full complexity of what nature has to offer.
The idea of the day wearing on continues in the third stanza, where the first line foregrounds the rest of the stanza by stating; ‘If I pass during some ‘nocturnal blackness,’ which clearly sets the scene for night time. This is carried on by the description of the hedgehog and the moths, which only venture out at night, which creates a mood of peace and tranquility. The idea that the hedgehog travels furtively suggests a sense of purpose, that the hedgehog has a sly, secret mission to complete, which will go unnoticed in the rest of the world. This seems symbolic for the narrator, who seems to be discretely observing everything. T
he secretiveness would help explain the distance that seems to be between him and the rest of the human beings around him. This distance is further achieved by the fact that there are never any names mentioned, or any suggestion of family or relationships. For example ‘one may say,’which is typically impersonal.Stanza four moves from describing the animals that the narrator identifies with, and is more focussed of the narrator and his idea of the people around him. It is different from the previous stanzas in that there is no movement within it, which is appropriate because Hardy is describing the time when the narrator has been ‘stilled at last.’ The focus switches from the visual nature the narrator is so utterly familiar with, to the ‘full starred heavens that winter sees.’
Therefore he is thinking about the unknown, and the life that awaits him after he dies. Again there is the use of personification for winter, as there was for spring, which is important as it signifies the end of the seasonal cycle where things wither and die.Continuing this somewhat disconsolate tone, the beginning of the last stanza seems to give up on human nature. It asks, ‘and will any say when my bell of quittance is heard in the gloom.’ This brings you back to the closure suggested in the first stanza, where he describes the gate closing on his life. The image of the bell contrasts to the silence of the previous stanzas, especially the one immediately preceding it.
It describes the sound dying, and then rising again as a ‘new bells boom.’ The alliteration again helps the line move quickly, suggesting the speed that people rush around. The onomatopoeic word ‘boom’ suggests the loud noise that people make, contrasting to the peace and tranquility of the nature and animals that he describes. The poem ends by asking if the people will say, ‘he hears it not now but used to notice such things?’ This sums up the whole poem, which is expressing how people will not ask these questions.
The refrains bring in the new voice in each stanza, having the effect of uniting each one. The meaning of each of the final lines never really changes, achieving the realization that the narrator knows that he will never change the views of the people around him. Hardy is criticizing human nature for not stopping long enough to reflect on what is really meaningful in people’s lives.
Therefore in conclusion the repetition of the first line, that ends the poem sums up the whole idea that nothing has actually been resolved. It emphasizes the complexity of nature and the amount of things that goes unnoticed every day and night. Hardy employs various techniques to make the poem come alive, which is crucial in showing his appreciation of what is going on around him. He uses extensive imagery, so that it is both visual, such as by describing the colours, and the explicit detail that is in every small thing that he describes. The silence is also transmitted effectively by word choice such as ‘soundless blink.’ It is also effective in identifying his affinity with animals, as opposed to human beings.