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:


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.