The poem is a meditation on death, but the speaker never once uses the words "death" or "die." How does he manage that? By using a slew of euphemisms to describe death, and by employing a lot of figurative language. Why doesn't he use the word "death"? Why not be more explicit, since that's what the poem is pretty obviously getting at? Maybe because he doesn't want "death" to sound so final. In this poem, people continue to exist after they die, if only in the memories of their friends and neighbors.
- The title: "Afterwards" refers to the speaker's death – an event that, at the time of writing, obviously hadn't happened yet (since the poem wasn't written by a zombie Hardy). There's also a possible pun here: the speaker is thinking about what will happen "after words." What will happen to his memory as a poet? Will people remember his words after he's dead?
- Line 1: Here's the first extended metaphor describing death. Death is when the "Present" moment closes, or "latches" the "postern" (back door) on the speaker's "tremulous stay," or "trembling life." The "postern" is an old-fashioned word, even for Hardy's time – it usually refers to the back door of a big castle or fortress. Using that word, instead of "front door," suggests that the poet might be afraid that no one will notice his death – it'll be like slipping quietly out a back door.
- Line 5: The simile in this line ("like an eyelid's soundless blink") refers to the flight of the "dewfall-hawk" of line 6, but it could also make the reader think of the poet's death. Like the "postern" of line 1, this image could reflect the poet's anxiety that he won't be remembered when he dies – he'll just die quietly, "like an eyelid's soundless blink."
- Line 12: Here's a common euphemism for death: the neighbors say, "now he is gone" instead of "now he is dead." The word "gone" suggests that the speaker has moved on to something else; it doesn't suggest the kind of finality that "dead" does.
- Line 14: Here's another euphemism: the speaker says, "stilled" instead of "dead." Sounds kind of peaceful, doesn't it?
- Line 15: The speaker uses synecdoche when he says that his neighbors "will meet my face no more": he writes "face" as a stand-in for the whole person.
- Line 17: The "bell of quittance," or the bell that tolls when a person dies, metonymically refers to the speaker's death through association.