Hardy’s “Afterwards”

Although not a typical Hardy poem, I’m fond of the last poem in Moments Of Vision And Miscellaneous Verses, appropriately named:

AFTERWARDS

When the Present has latched its postern behind my tremulous stay,
And the May month flaps its glad green leaves like wings,
Delicate-filmed as new-spun silk, will the neighbours say,
"He was a man who used to notice such things"?

If it be in the dusk when, like an eyelid's soundless blink,
The dewfall-hawk comes crossing the shades to alight
Upon the wind-warped upland thorn, a gazer may think,
"To him this must have been a familiar sight."

If I pass during some nocturnal blackness, mothy and warm,
When the hedgehog travels furtively over the lawn,
One may say, "He strove that such innocent creatures should come to no harm,
But he could do little for them; and now he is gone"?

If, when hearing that I have been stilled at last, they stand at the door,
Watching the full-starred heavens that winter sees,
Will this thought rise on those who will meet my face no more,
"He was one who had an eye for such mysteries"?

And will any say when my bell of quittance is heard in the gloom,
And a crossing breeze cuts a pause in its outrollings,
Till they rise again, as they were a new bell's boom,
"He hears it not now, but used to notice such things"?


I can’t imagine wanting to be remembered any other way. I would consider it a compliment if one of my grandchildren observing a butterfly in May after I’m gone would simply say, “Pahtah ‘used to notice such things.’?

Though I’ve never had enough money to preserve a huge piece of land in the Cascades, I hope my grandchildren will remember while hiking those lands that I, too, contributed to their purchase through years of small, but constant donations, my small attempt to preserve nature as I came to know it as a child.

Though I’ve never been much into stargazing, I, too, have “had an eye for such mysteries,? living a life of constant wonder.

Most of all, I hope my kids and grandkids will remember me as someone who “used to notice such things,? taking joy from the simple pleasures of nature even when my personal life was in turmoil or my country wracked by war.

Most of all, though, this poem puts the claims that Hardy was a pessimist or cynic into perspective. Though he looked at life and society directly, his intent was always to free others from the chains that bound them, not to laugh at their misery from on high.

7 thoughts on “Hardy’s “Afterwards”

  1. A beautiful poem and one of surprising openness. On first reading, I thought it was oddly boastful of his sensitivities; it seemed he was telling the reader how he should be praised. Such sensitivity is, of course, admirable and enviable (and for easily distracted people like me too often missed), but the points Hardy makes are so subtle, the observations so finely made, that it seems he’s relating how the stuff of our lives is inescapably our own and ultimately unreachable by or unknowable to others. Who, hearing a church bell fade momentarily in a breeze, is going to guess that this was something another would have perceived? The poem shows us how beautiful and individual our own experiences are.

  2. I’m not sure all, or even most, people consider such sensitivity desirable in a “man,” Tom.

    I suspect most men would probably preferred to be remembered for their “courage,” their “strength,” “their wisdom” or their “generosity.”

  3. I think the aspect of legacy in this poem is incidental to the broader point, but your comment is interesting. People who want to be remembered in a certain way are adding something artificial and probably harmful to the experience of living. It’s a kind of vanity and a way of distancing oneself from life. We all have those urgings from time to time but it strikes me as something shameful. Do you agree?

  4. I’m not sure I know the answer to that question, Tom.

    I certainly wouldn’t consider it acceptable to go out of your way to make people remember a trait that you really don’t have. Or to try to make yourself look better to others than you really are.

    On the other hand, I’ve consciously made each of my grandchildren a woodcarving that I hope they’ll keep and treasure and remember me by, but that’s also because I enjoy woodcarving.

    I suspect thinking about what you want to be remembered by isn’t too different from thinking about what’s really important to you.

  5. Hi Tom,

    I disagree. While everyone may have a dark side, and perhaps vanity belongs there, it is not a thing which is wrong with a person intrinsically (which is what shame means to me). If someone exercises vanity but does not value it, feeling guilty about the act may be appropriate, but feeling ashamed would be misplaced emotion in my opinion.

    Denying that one even possesses vanity seems more distancing to me than using that feature to inspire others.

    jon

  6. Too deep for me, Jon. You have a feel for language that’s more sensitive than mine. I’m not sure I could distinguish the feelings of guilt and shame. Maybe shameful was the wrong word for the point I was making. I used the term as an objective judgment on the quality of that attitude as a measure of personal worth. A better word might have been dishonorable.
    You’re right, of course, that vanity has its uses, particularly among artists. How many Emily Dickensons have we lost because of insufficient vanity to share their work?
    I’m just sensitive to the personal harm that comes from valuing one’s life in terms of how we’re perceived by others. Vanity sells a lot of Hummers.

  7. Hi Tom,

    The vanity that Emily Dickenson exercised is the same vanity that sells Hummers. I feel it is tragic that a more creative outlet for that trait isn’t pursued and as such see it (buying Hummers) as a sign of immaturity.

    I completely agree that it is unhelpful when we place our self-worth solely in the hands of others. I don’t think, as you pointed out toward the end of your first post, that that was what Hardy was doing.

    I know! My view is a bit Pollyannaish. I wonder if I’ll be remembered that way? (laugh)

    jon

What do you think?