‘Afterwards’ by Thomas Hardy


Dorset Statue of Thomas Hardy with Grass and Flowers

Thomas Hardy Statue, and the grass and flowers beneath, in Dorchester, Dorset.

Photograph by Dr Oindrila Ghosh

Thomas Hardy (1840-1928) was a Victorian writer whose literary output includes novels, short stories, eight volumes of poetry and non-fictional prose. Though popularly known as a novelist, Hardy’s first love was poetry. After the negative reception of his final novels he returned to poetry as his primary form of writing.  

Hardy had no formal University education but a deep thirst for knowledge, which was encouraged from childhood by his mother, Jemima Hardy. Hardy’s belief in the eternal power of love for the environment is reflected in many of his poems, a thought that Hardy perhaps shared with several late-Victorian writers. ‘Afterwards’ is one of the most famous of those poems, which emphasize minute observation of the natural world. It was part of a volume entitled Moments of Vision, published in 1917. 

‘Afterwards’ is dotted with animals, birds and even insects. Hardy’s keen observation of insect-life connects him with the general late-Victorian enthusiasm for entomology. Similarly, in a scene in Hardy’s 1874 novel, Far From the Madding Crowd, the activities and movements of insects are read by Gabriel Oak, the hero who manifests some of Hardy’s own naturalist sensibilities, as the premonition of a huge storm.  

The poem hinges upon the speaker-poet’s careful observation of natural phenomena and expression of them in images of beauty, contrasted with the prosaic and factual observations made by those around him after his departure. The poem is structured around imagined occasions after the speaker’s death. Rather than as an internationally celebrated writer, he hopes to be remembered as an attentive country-dweller, whose life synchronised with the rolling out of seasons and the changing nuances of every day. The interplay of day and night, the calendar months and seasons, all of which converge in the imaginary retrospective of the speaker-poet’s departure from this cycle, make the poem a strange amalgam of self-consciousness. Descriptions of time blur with natural details: “May month’s” wings flap, for example, and the “dewfall-hawk’s” silent movements become like a “soundless blink”. There is a sadness here too, perhaps arising out of the poet’s regret of leaving behind the subtle and vibrant sounds of the non-human world: the harsh reality that the cycle of life and nature shall go on uninterrupted even as the speaker-poet’s life of observation ends. 

The heightened ecological consciousness of our present time could find much to delve into in the Victorian age, and Hardy remains one of the forerunners in this cultural development through his close involvement with the Humanitarian League (formed 1891), and the Animal’s Friend Society (1832). Hardy’s attentions to animal life have been used to advocate for animal protection both during and after his lifetime. The vulnerable hedgehog in this poem prompts a reference to this political advocacy work. Yet Hardy was aware of the limits of his efforts in protecting animal lives, and in his later poem ‘Compassion’ (1924), which was written for the Celebration of the Centenary of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, encourages future work. 


—Oindrila Ghosh




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?" 


Some themes and questions to consider 

  • Is it death or a beautiful celebration of all forms of life that ultimately looms largest in this poem? 

  • Hardy’s love for the natural world is an intrinsic part of his proud identity as a regional writer. How might this change how we read the poem?

Full Text


The full text of Moments of Vision is available through Project Gutenberg.


Great Writers Inspire: Thomas Hardy

A set of open-access multimedia resources on Hardy at Oxford’s Great Writers Inspire

The Thomas Hardy Society

Resources from the scholarly society for the study of Thomas Hardy.

The Victorian Web

A set of open-access articles and learning resources on Hardy from The Victorian Web.

Animal Welfare in the Nineteenth-Century

A web article published in The Conversation by Prof Jane Hamlett outlining animal welfare movements of nineteenth-century Britain.  

The Animals' Friend Society Prospectus

A PDF of the digitised Prospectus and abstracts printed by the National Animals' Friend Society in 1845, held in the Wellcome Collection, London.  

The Henry Salt Society

Website of the Henry S. Salt scholarly society.

The Empire of Beasts Then and Now

An article by Irina Kantarbaeva-Bill about Political Cartoons and New Trends in Victorian Animal Studies, open-access published in Cahiers victoriens et édouardiens [Online], 93 (2021). Versions in both French and English. 

About the Contributor

Oindrila Ghosh was the Belcher Visiting Fellow in Victorian Studies at St Hugh’s College, University of Oxford (2022-23). She is now Associate Professor in the Department of English, Diamond Harbour Women’s University and an Academic Fellow at the Institute of Advanced Studies, University of Surrey (2023). Her PhD and postdoctoral engagements have been with Thomas Hardy and his postcolonial reappraisals. Her current interests lie in mapping the transnational animal welfare movements of the Late-Victorian era in Britain and India.