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Thomas Hardy was a British novelist and poet writing during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He's primarily remembered for his novels, like Tess of the D'Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure, but he started and ended his writing career as a poet. In fact, the scathing reviews in response to Jude the Obscure in 1895 drove him to give up writing novels altogether – after that, he switched back to poetry and never wrote another novel, though he lived until 1928.
"Afterwards" was published as the grand finale in a volume of poems entitled Moments of Vision, which came out in 1917. The poem was written towards the end of Hardy's life, and it reflects the bittersweet (more bitter than sweet) nostalgia of an old man looking back over his life and realizing that he's got fewer days ahead than he has behind. It was also written during World War I, and reflects some of the despair and anguish typical of British literature written during that time – no one had ever seen death or destruction on that scale before. So if "Afterwards" seems kind of dark or depressing to you, you're not alone: Hardy certainly felt that he had plenty to be depressed about.
In "Afterwards," Thomas Hardy describes a lot of natural images, like "hedgehogs" and "dewfall-hawks." If you're not a fan of rodents or birds of prey, however, don't assume that this poem has nothing to offer you: it's about much bigger ideas than the "glad green fields" that the speaker describes. It's about the fragility of life and the certainty of death. Pretty heavy stuff, we know.
But it's not just a meditation on mortality; it's about the anxiety that the speaker feels about the world continuing to turn after he has died. The poet imagines what his friends and neighbors will say about him after he's dead. Even if you don't think about dying as often as the poet – Hardy was, after all, 77 years old when he wrote this poem – you can probably still sympathize with its basic idea. Have you ever moved to a new place, and thought about how your old friends and neighbors would remember you? Or realized that your friends would continue on with their lives, even though you weren't there? So, sure, you can read it for the beauty of the imagery, but you can also think of it as a poem about what we leave behind: in other words, it's about what happens "afterwards."
The Victorian Web
This is a great online resource for any students of the Victorian period. Their section on Thomas Hardy includes a handy chronology of his life, plus lots of other great information.
The Thomas Hardy Association
This is a must for folks studying Thomas Hardy. The Thomas Hardy Association is supported by several different universities in the USA, Great Britain, and Canada.
Cartoon Portrait of Hardy
This image is from the Slate.com article linked to below.
Portrait of Hardy
This is a more formal portrait of Hardy than the cartoon.
Photo of Hardy's House
Hardy's house in Dorchester, England.
Photo of Hardy's Grave
Does it contain Hardy's heart, or a pig's heart, as the rumor goes? We'll never know! (Check out "Trivia" to learn more…)
Article about Hardy's Poetry
This Slate.com article gives some great background on Hardy, but mostly focuses on the poems Hardy wrote to his wife, Emma, after she died.
"The Time-Torn Man," by Claire Tomalin
You'll need to log in to access this article, but you could also write down the bibliographic information and pick it up at almost any library. Victorian Studies is a major journal.
"The Actual Sky Is a Horror": Thomas Hardy and the Arnoldian Conception of Science
This is an article by Anne DeWitt, from Yale University.
"Thomas Hardy and Thomas Gray: The Poet's Currency"
This article mentions "Afterwards" and provides useful background about the poet, but you might have to log in to access the full article.
The Technique of Thomas Hardy
This is from a 1922 book by Joseph Warren Beach. Parts of it are available on Google Books, or you could get the whole thing from the library.
Review of a Biography by Claire Tomalin
This is a New York Times review of one of the newest books out there on the life of Thomas Hardy.