Philip Bourke Marston


Philip Bourke Marston

Philip Bourke Marston was an English poet born in 1850.

He lost his sight at the age of three, and much of his poetry is imbued with his impressions from his affliction.

‘After’ by Philip Bourke Marston presents words that arise from a heart, broken and sad. It is a testimony of a person who has nothing left in his life instead of grief. For him, the little things that once existed before have now given way to grief only. It is not that it’s an elegy written for the poet’s lost love. The poem presents a mixed kind of emotions that appear and fade away in the poet’s mind. Moreover, the brevity of expression in the poem and the repetition of the word “little” make the poem closer to the heart as it speaks the truth! Nothing stays. What remains is the recollection of the past.

After by Philip Bourke Marston



‘After’ by Philip Bourke Marston is an emotional poem that talks about the little things that the poet longs to do.

‘After’ by Philip Bourke Marston talks about the poetic persona’s little wishes. He doesn’t want anything bigger from life except for pleasant things that cheer the heart. Likewise, in the first three stanzas, the poet talks about the lady whom he loved. Now, she is not with the poet. For this reason, he desires those things that once made him feel happy. In the following two stanzas, the poet says what he really wants to say to his beloved. There is still something left in his heart that he wants to tell her about. Moreover, in the last stanza, the poet sighs for the “long, long” years that he has to live alone with a sad heart. What is left in him, is the endless heartache. It will only end in eternal sleep.



‘After’ by Philip Bourke Marston consists of six four-line stanzas. The poet employs a regular rhyme scheme in the poem and he makes use of the closed rhyming form. It means that the first and fourth lines of each stanza rhyme together. Whereas, the second and third lines form a rhyming couplet. As an example, in the first stanza, “laughter” and “after” rhyme and “sing” rhyme with “cling”. The repetition of “A little” throughout the poem except in the last stanza, refers to the main idea of the poem. It is no doubt about the little things that make one cheerful.

However, the metrical composition of the poem is interesting enough. In each stanza, the first and fourth lines contain 7 syllables each. Whereas, the second line and third line contain 6 and 8 syllables respectively. In this poem, the lines having 6 and 7 syllables contain the iambic trimeter. But, the first and fourth lines have hypermetrical endings. Moreover, the third line of each stanza is in iambic tetrameter. However, it can be said that the poem is composed of iambic trimeter as the majority of the lines contain this meter.


Literary Devices

‘After’ by Philip Bourke Marston is a poem that has some important literary devices to discuss. The epigrammatic sense present in each section of the poem is also very interesting. However, in the first stanza, the first three lines contain anaphora. The last line of this stanza is somehow paradoxical in sense. In the second stanza, the second line contains a personification. Here the poet also uses a metaphor for referring to himself. However, in “golden dreams” there is a metonymy. Here, the poet refers to the dreams that one values the most. In the third stanza, there is a simile in the third line and here the poet compares himself to a ghost. Whereas, in the last stanza, the poet uses hyperbole and a metaphor as well.

In the fifth stanza, the poet uses synecdoche in the second line. Here, by referring to “heart” the poet associates himself. There is an alliteration in the third line of this stanza. Here, the “s” sound in “short sharp” gets repeated for the sake of emphasis. Moreover, in the last stanza, there is a palilogy in the use of the word “long” twice. It is no doubt a hyperbolic expression. In the third line, “Great grief” is an example of consonance. The poet also personifies “grief” in this line and invests it with the idea of desolating the soul. At last, the poet uses a periphrasis or circumlocution for pointing to “death”.


Analysis, Stanza by Stanza

Stanza One

A little time for laughter,

A little time to sing,

A little time to kiss and cling,

And no more kissing after.

‘After’ by Philip Bourke Marston presents how the poet longs for his lady love. The love story has ended abruptly and there is still feeling left in the poet’s heart. The poet can imagine how they laughed and sang together. The sensation of kissing her and clinging her closer to his heart, reminds the poet about the brevity of his relationship. He is sad because he can’t find any other person just like her. For this reason, the poet reiterates there is “no more kissing” after she has left.


Stanza Two

A little while for scheming

Love’s unperfected schemes;

A little time for golden dreams,

Then no more any dreaming.

‘After’ by Philip Bourke Marston presents the foolish schemes that one thinks of to please his beloved. The poet doesn’t have enough time for scheming too as she was there in his life for a short time. In the second line, the poet refers to the schemes of love as “unperfected”. It is true that no matter how one tries to perfect the plans to please his beloved, it appears as imperfect at the end. It is ironic but true.

In the last two lines, the poet refers to his dreams of the future with the lady. According to the poet, the dreams are golden because the dreams revolve around the lady whom the poet adores the most. The last line again reiterates the negation for the sake of emphasizing the poet’s mental state.


Stanza Three

A little while ’twas given

To me to have thy love;

Now, like a ghost, alone I move

About a ruined heaven.

In the third stanza of ‘After’, the poet refers to the transience of the lady’s love. He implicitly compares love with life and refers to the transience of both. In the last two lines, there is a reference to the poet’s loneliness. He feels like a formless ghost as the lady’s departure has devastated his spirit. Now, he roams in the heaven that he created in his mind. The heaven, created with love and care, is now in ruins. And, the poet is the guardian spirit of that broken heaven.


Stanza Four

A little time for speaking

Things sweet to say and hear;

A time to seek, and find thee near,

Then no more any seeking.

In the fourth stanza of ‘After’, Marston expresses how much he longs to speak with her. He wants to hear her words that linger in his mind and soothes his soul. The stanza reflects how badly the poet misses the lady. However, in the last two lines, the poet seeks her again and finds her near like before. But, sadly he can’t. In the last line, the poet says, “Then no more any seeking.” It means that the poet just needs a brief encounter with the lady again and nothing more.


Stanza Five

A little time for saying

Words the heart breaks to say;

A short sharp time wherein to pray,

Then no more need of praying;

In the fifth stanza of ‘After’, the poet presents what he really wants to say to his beloved. His heart is breaking as it can’t hold those words anymore there. He has to say it anyhow. For this reason, he prays to God to make her return. Thus the poet can unfold his heart and say what he badly wants to. He seeks nothing else. Apart from that, there is another thing to note here that the poet has no other desires except for talking with her.


Stanza Six

But long, long years to weep in,

And comprehend the whole

Great grief that desolates the soul,

And eternity to sleep in.

‘After’ by Philip Bourke Marston talks about the poet’s grief-stricken condition in the last stanza. For emphasizing how sad the poet is he uses the word “long” in the first line of this section. The poet doesn’t even get enough time to comprehend what has gone wrong in the relationship. That’s why he says he needs to think about his flaws and the relationship as a whole in the upcoming years. In the last two lines, the poet refers to his desolation and says that only eternal sleep or death can end his heartache.


Historical Context

‘After’ by Philip Bourke Marston is a poem that refers to a lady who had left the poet. The tone and mood of the poem present that the poet isn’t aggravated about the departure. He badly misses her presence. Moreover, the poet lost his fiancee Mary Nesbit in November 1871. So, it seems that the poet might have addressed this poem to her.


Similar Poetry

Like ‘After’ by Philip Bourke Marston the following poems also talk about the theme of loss and the transience of love in one’s life.

You can read about 10 Incredible Poems about Death here.

Sudip Das Gupta Poetry Expert
A complete expert on poetry, Sudip graduated with a first-class B.A. Honors Degree in English Literature. He has a passion for analyzing poetic works with a particular emphasis on literary devices and scansion.

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