Afterwards’ by Thomas Hardy Q: Discuss the theme of the poem, and evoke how it is fully developed
Hardy’s lofty speculation and attitude towards his death and nature are the central themes of the poem. As the poet’s death inevitably approach, the poem is structured around the eternal questions as to, how he would be remembered among the people, and the “mysterious” bond between human and nature. In the text, it is remarkably paradoxical that, the serene images of nature convey the ideas of death and the transitory nature of life. This contrasting irony also has the effect of emphasizing the fragility and brevity of human being’s life.
In overall, the poem evokes the proposal that we ought to make our short stay on earth, – worthwhile – by endless interactions between nature and its inhabitants; human beings and creatures. By doing so, we are leaving our traces of life, allowing others to remember us through nature itself. Then we are enabled to live an eternal life. These intense ideas are fully conveyed through explicit images of nature, diction and the versification of the poet. Although the poem handles the tragic reality of inevitable death, the text’s atmosphere is kept on a fairly sanguine level, allowing alleviated flow of narration.
This is accomplished by the abundant, paradoxical images of serene nature; conveying the ideas of death and nature, at the same time. The imageries of nature also contribute towards conveying and developing the theme. “And the May month flaps its glad green leaves like wings, Delicate-filmed as new-spun silk… ” This personified image of May portrays a figure of a butterfly, which was once an unattractive caterpillar, now a beautiful butterfly with “wings” that seem like “new-spun silk”. This creature has gained a new form of existence.
This evokes nature’s ability to endow the world with exquisiteness, and also grant organisms with new life. This mere imagery of nature is in strong contrast between Hardy himself, emphasizing the poet’s gradual approach of end of time. Another example is, “… Some nocturnal blackness, mothy… ” Initially, pejorative diction such as “blackness” provides the line with the sense of demise. Furthermore, the murky imagery is described as being “mothy”, literally meaning that there is large populace of moths. Moths have very low life span, again implying death, and evoking the fragility and the transitory life of human.
The continual use of nature’s imagery in an attempt to convey death of human beings, suggest that death and human are a part of nature itself. This can be confirmed by how the poet has personified the humans in the text. We are portrayed as, “neightbours”, “a gazer”, “one” and “any”. The humans are not described in fine detail, but on the other hand, the nature is precisely portrayed. This implies that we are not superior to the creatures or nature in any way, but we all belong to nature as a whole. Death is seen as a “mystery” in life. The poem deals with the eternal question of Hardy, how he would be remembered “afterwards”.
This leads him to deep meditation and contemplation. He believes that life of a man who passes his time with a great feeling for nature beauty is a valuable life. The poem is in a tone of regret, confessing that he “could do little” to appreciate nature. He wishes, a mere hope, to be remembered as a person who “used to notice such things. ” However his question and hope would never be confirmed, as there are no ways to know, when he is dead. Although the poet’s death approaches, he is not afraid but becomes desperate to find the meaning of life, which leads to loftier speculations.
If when hearing that I have been stilled at last… heavens that winter sees, will this thought rise on those … for such mysteries? ” Clearly, the “full-starred heavens” are “mysterious” to Hardy. “He was one who had an eye for such mysteries? ” This conveys that the visuals of the wonders of nature will bring the memories of Hardy in people’s minds. This means that Hardy, although dead, has become a part of nature itself. This idea parallels to the imagery of the butterfly, – both the butterfly and Hardy have gained a new form of life, an existence.
Hardy’s perplexity is sustained: “And will my bell of quittance … heard in the gloom / And a crossing breeze cuts a pause in its outrolling. ” The alliteration in “Bells boom” signifies death. Not even the breeze has prevented his death. He has died and will never understand why. The poem conveys the frustration and struggle of Hardy, to answer questions that will be left unsolved in the history of mankind. The rhythms of the poem also contribute to help convey and develop the theme; there are three different rhythmic patterns apparent in the text.
Firstly, the combination of ‘iamb’ and ‘anapaests’ provide the poem a less contrived, but more of a natural tone. As we normally speak with differentiating combinations of strong and weak stresses. The ‘spondees’ are two strong adjacent stresses, which often alliterate. An example of this is “… bells boom… ” This gives the effect of imitating the tolling sound of the bell, and contrasting the passages written in a more natural tone, by forcefully emphasizing certain words, adding alliteration or assonances as well.
More examples of these are, “May month… glad green” with alliterations, “dewfall-hawk” with assonance. These descriptions are used to emphasize the magnificence in our world. Another versification of the poet, which helps to convey the theme, is the precise choice of diction. The specific dictions allow evoking the themes in great subtlety. First of all the title implies the end of time; as it is called “Afterwards”. There are more examples such as “furtively”, which is an adverb describing the nimble movements of the hedgehog.
However this also applies to human beings, conveying our vulnerability. Also pejorative diction such as “gloom” is apparent to give the feel of loss in the poem. The serene images of nature, which provided the poem with optimistic mood, are virtually cancelled out by the pejorative diction. Thus overall, the poem is more like a conversation, a person talking, allowing the line to run smooth. The main themes of ‘Afterwards’ are the inevitable death of human and how nature possesses the ability to endow living organisms with new life and beauty.
These complex ideas are fully developed through serene images of nature. Moreover these ideas are passionately conveyed with the poet’s versification. It is shown that death, nature, and human being belong as a whole, allowing the progression of life in our world. The poet’s intention on writing such poem, was to express his regret, how he should have interacted more with nature, leaving behind traces of his life, behind with nature itself. Providing the rest of the world with evidences of Hardy’s life, which means that Hardy is then living an eternal life.