Afterwards by Thomas Hardy Analysis
Afterwards by Thomas Hardy is the last poem in Moments of Vision, 1917. In this poem, Hardy thinks of the coming of his own end, as he does not expect to live long enough to achieve another volume of poetry. After his death, he feels that he will be remembered by his neighbours as a man of ‘sensitive observation’ and ‘altruism’ (showing his love and compassion for all living creatures on earth). It is a highly subjective poem, revealing the poet’s sensitiveness towards natural scenes and sights and his regard for his neighbours and surroundings.
This is Hardy’s swan-song. He does not expect to live long. He is obviously concerned here with what people will think of him when he is dead. Very subtly he suggests that they should then remember him as a lover of mankind and animals and natural scenes and sights. He comes out as a defender of birds/ bees, and cattle.
Though he is not afraid of death, he wants to be remembered by his neighbours as one of their well-wishers. The poem, clearly, expresses the poet’s sense of keen observation of the life around him, of Edgon-Heath and its surroundings.
Tom Paulin calls this poem “one of his (Hardy’s] finest poems” -the result of his noticing things or ‘compulsive positivism’. Here Hardy is seeking to realise and objectify immortality in a series of observed facts, and it is this kind of immortality which he anticipates for himself. But Hardy is to be credited for having transformed these observed facts into a kind of vision. The cold clear view of things, in his case, passes into a ‘reverence for what is observed.
The poem is remarkable for the use of arresting imagery and loaded diction. For imagery, the following two lines must be marked:
“And the May-Month flaps its glad green leaves like wings,
Delicate-filmed as new-spun silk…..”
The first line gives the image of a bird flapping its soft, tender wings in the air, while the second one weaves a fine texture of silk for the Spring-Maid. It is in this as well as in the impressive employment of figures of speech that the poem is really remarkable. The very first line of the first stanza contains a fine example of Personification wherein the Present is seen doing the work of a man with its hands. Simile is to be found in Delicate-filmed as new-spun silk’, and in glad green leaves like wings’. The diction reveals careful selection and rejection of words and phrases to paint the picture of a difficult moment that of death but it also betrays the truth that the poet has not lost the poise of his head thinking over the fatal moment. It is charged with intensity and tension, which is so much needed to make it a truly good poem.
Tom Paulin thinks that the fresh green leaves looking like beautiful butterflies show not only Hardy’s attitude to natural things or his propensity for scientific observation of facts, but also a deeper design in making the texture of the poem worthwhile and appreciable. He suggests that the ‘butterfly’ is an ancient symbol of the soul and that the poem is about ‘survival after death’, which is realised in visible, physical terms. Hence, resurrecting angels and winged souls are naturalized as fluttering green leaves, as concrete things. In other words, immortality is realised here as an observed fact.
Hardy’s matching of filmy leaves with fresh silk in this piece is specially remarkable in that he is joining here a natural fact with ‘a process that involves leaves, silk-worms and spinning wheels’, and so suggests ‘a co-operation between nature and human skill’. Hopkins also used to do the same in his poems; be used to ‘instress’ the ‘inscape’ (distinct individuality or traits) of things. The aim of Hardy in doing so is to objectify himself in the details be describes. He could do so through the association with various objects, persons and places. Thus alone he could exalt the perception of things and persons to an objectified vision. He succeeded in making his neighbours and surroundings an integral part of his vision, an inseparable clement of his imagination. That’s why Hardy may be said to be a realist with an eye for the world around but quick in perception and transformation of what he has observed.
In the end, it may be observed that the poem has a progression in thought and feeling. The single-minded devotion to the theme of survival after death adds an element of cohesion and concentration to it. The deft artistic touch of the poet makes it a real gem of English poetry.