This poem is a meditation on death, but it's not just about the act of dying – it's about how the speaker imagines that he will be remembered after his death. Will he be remembered as a poet? Or as a novelist? Or as a nature lover? Or will he be forgotten immediately and left to rot in his house until the neighbors came by to check on the smell? The relationship of the present to the past (and to the future) has a lot to do with memory.
Questions About Memory and the Past
Why is the poem all about the speaker's neighbors who will remember him, and not about his own memories of his life?
Why are the neighbors' reminiscences about the speaker set off in quotation marks as though they represent directly reported speech? Isn't the speaker just imagining what they'd say, anyway?
Why does the poet break from the poetic meter and language of the first three lines of each stanza, writing the neighbors' remarks in a more prosaic style?
The "Present" is personified in the first line. Since the whole poem is about how the speaker will be remembered, why isn't the past personified as well?
Chew on This
The neighbors' reported speech in "Afterwards" is written in prose to emphasize the difference between their language and the poet's – between their observation of nature and the poet's heightened sensitivity to it.
The poet hopes to be remembered as a nature lover, rather than as a great poet, because the two are concomitant: poetry can only be written by those who are sensitive observers of nature.