‘Afterglow‘ has become popular in recent years as a way of setting a warmer and happier tone at a funeral or memorial service. It describes death in more peaceful terms and reminds those present to remember the deceased fondly and with love in their hearts, rather than sorrow. Throughout this poem, readers will find examples of imagery and great uses of figurative language.
In the first lines of ‘Afterglow,’ the speaker says that they want to leave behind nothing but good memories and happiness. They’re hoping their life results in an afterglow of smiles and an echo of happy times and warmth. There are many good examples of imagery in these lines, ones that should create a specific mood for the reader. One should walk away from this poem feeling content and at peace. The speaker concludes that they’d be happy to know that their memory was so bright it dried the tears of those mourning their passing.
You can read the full poem here.
I’d like the memory of me
to be a happy one.
whispering softly down the ways,
In the first lines of ‘Afterglow,’ the speaker begins by making the first of several suggestions about their death. They have a clear picture of how they want to be remembered and what they want to have happen after they’re gone. They’d like to leave behind a happy memory, one that, like an afterglow, is bright. Specifically, the speaker says they want their afterglow to be one of “smiles.” This is a simple metaphor that helps the reader understand the impact the speaker hopes they have on the world. They don’t want to die and leave everyone mourning their loss. They want their memory to make everyone smile.
Furthermore, they say that they want to “leave an echo / whispering softly down the ways.” This example of figurative language also helps paint a picture of their view on life and death. It connects to line seven.
Of happy times and laughing times
and bright and sunny days.
that I leave when life is done.
In the seventh line, the speaker says that they want their echo to be “Of happy times and laughing times.” The parallelism in this line helps to create an uplifting rhythm. The poet’s use of clear and direct language also makes these lines easy and pleasurable to read. They want their memory to be filled with joy and warmth, even though they’ve passed away.
Hopefully, the speaker says, the warmth of their memory dries everyone’s tears and makes the mourning period short. They can’t change how people feel or react to death, but these suggestions should bring some peace to those who read or hear them.
Throughout this poem, the poet engages with themes of loss and memory. They also consider the love the speaker has inspired in those around them. The poet’s speaker is directing their words to anyone who knows them and might mourn after they pass away. They are considering loss as something that doesn’t have to result in a great deal of mourning. Instead, the memory of their life should dry tears and warm hearts. This is, in their opinion, a far better way to consider death. It’s for these reasons that this poem has become so popular as a reading at memorials and funeral services. Most people would rather celebrate life and love than grieve for something that can’t change.
Structure and Form
‘Afterglow’ by Helen Lowrie Marshall is a twelve-line poem that is contained within a single stanza of text. The poem follows a rhyme scheme of ABCBCDEFBFB. There are a few examples of end sounds that do not repeat in this pattern, but most endings are rhymed with another line. This helps make the poem feel consistent without allowing it to become too predictable. There is no single metrical pattern that unifies the entire poem, but, the lines are relatively similar in length. They are all around six syllables long.
Throughout this poem, the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Anaphora: occurs when the poet uses the same word or words at the beginning of lines. For example, “I’d like” starts lines one, three, five, and eight.
- Imagery: occurs when the poet uses especially powerful descriptions. These should appeal to the reader’s senses. For example, “an afterglow / of smiles when life is done.”
- Enjambment: seen when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines one and two as well as lines five and six. These moments help maintain a conversational tone.
It’s unclear who the speaker is in ‘Afterglow.’ But, readers can assume that the person speaking is clear-minded, considerate, and kind. They might also be close to death. Perhaps they are ill or entering old age and are spending more time thinking about what’s going to happen after they’re gone.
The tone is warm and contemplative in ‘Afterglow’ by Helen Lowrie Marshall. The poet uses clear language and evocative images to paint a calming image of death and how the speaker hopes others will deal with their death.
In this piece, the poet uses two different metaphors. She uses the image of afterglow and an echo to convey her speaker’s desires after they’ve died. The happy times they had should be like an echo and radiate out, repeating themselves and the smiles they’ve shared should remain like a warm glow.
The word “afterglow” refers to the emotional or physical imprint left after something has died out. This could be a real light or a metaphorical one as is the case in the poem ‘Afterglow’ by Helen Lowrie Marshall.
The best poems are those that acknowledge the loss without dwelling too much on the sorrow everyone is feeling. Some of the best poems to read at funerals include: ‘Death is Nothing At All’ by Henry Scott Holland and ‘Do Not Stand At My Grave and Weep‘ by Mary Frye. Read 8 Truly Touching Poems to Read at Funerals for more.
Readers who enjoyed ‘Afterglow’ should also consider reading some similar poems. For example:
- ‘Let Me Go’ by Christina Rossetti – a soothing and peaceful depiction of death from the perspective of someone about to face it. Read more Christina Rossetti poems.
- ‘Sorrow’ by Aubrey Thomas de Vere – an interesting poem in which the speaker considers the purpose of grief in the face of God.
- ‘And When My Sorrow was Born’ by Kahlil Gibran – describes a speaker’s emotional development as he discovers and then loses Joy. Explore more Kahil Gibran poems.