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‘?
“Afterwards” was the final poem in the collection entitled “Moments of Vision and Miscellaneous Verses” by Thomas Hardy (1840-1928). This was in the summer of 1917 when Hardy was 77 years old, the world was at war, and Hardy was doubtful whether he would live to publish any more.
As it happened, Hardy had another eleven years ahead of him and he would write and publish many more poems. However, his belief that he was reaching the end of the road accounts for the message behind this, his “final” poem, although its mood is neither pessimistic nor regretful.
The poem is a series of hypothetical questions and statements – in other words, the speaker repeatedly asks, “If X happens, how will my neighbours react?” Each of the five stanzas describes a different hypothetical situation. In each of them, he imagines that he has died, and then imagines his neighbours reflecting on the beauty of nature and the speaker’s absence.