‘After a Journey’ by Thomas Hardy is a four stanza poem that is separated into sets of eight lines, or octaves. These octaves follow a consistent rhyme scheme that conforms to the pattern of ABABCDDC, alternating end sounds as the poet saw fit. ‘After a Journey’ is one of the poems published in Hardy’s 1914 collection Poems 1912-12. These were written mainly after the death of his wife, Emma. Many focus on themes of regret and reconciliation.
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The poem begins with the speaker telling the listener, who is the ghost, that he has come to interview her. He knows that she is “Voiceless” but they are able to communicate in other ways. In the first stanza, he describes how much work it took to track the ghost down. She is always leading him off to various locations. Many of these remind him of how lonely he is now.
When they do eventually come back together it is in one or more of the places they spent time together when she was alive. The speaker is deeply moved by the familiar sights and sounds. His whole life is improved by the evening and night he’s able to spend with her. She has to go when the sun rises, but he doesn’t mind. He believes that she will be able to bring him back to the same areas again. They don’t have to be apart for the rest of the time. It is possible to have temporary moments that return them to the past.
Read more of Thomas Hardy’s poetry.
Themes and Images
The presence of the past, and the inability to permanently return to it, is one of the most important themes in ‘After a Journey.’ In the text, the speaker spends the majority of his time chasing after the ghost of a woman he loved. He is seeking her out in order to ask her questions about what went wrong with their relationship.
Finally, went the two are together again, Hardy uses a variety of vibrant images to express the love they shared. Hardy describes a waterfall and a cave as though they are able to communicate with the speaker. This is how important they were, and are, to the speaker and his dead lover. They call to him. This leads to another important theme of the poem, communication.
Water is a consistent image throughout ‘After a Journey.’ It represents the kind of communication the speaker is longing for from his ghost woman. If only she would stay still, allow him to interview her, and spend some time with her then everything would improve. She does just that at the end of ‘After a Journey,’ minus answering his questions. She is “Voiceless” just as the speaker stated at the beginning.
Analysis of After a Journey
I come to interview a Voiceless ghost;
Whither, O whither will its whim now draw me?
Up the cliff, down, till I’m lonely, lost,
And the unseen waters’ soliloquies awe me.
Where you will next be there’s no knowing,
Facing round about me everywhere,
With your nut-coloured hair,
And gray eyes, and rose-flush coming and going.
In the first stanza of ‘After a Journey’ the speaker begins by stating very bluntly that he has come to “interview a Voiceless ghost.” The ghost he is looking for is one that haunts him every day. He never knows where it is going to “draw” him. It has its own “whims” and the speaker can’t understand them. One of the places he might end up, mentally more than physically, is “Up the cliff, down.” The thought of someone ceaselessly chasing after a ghost, going wherever they can to find it, is depressing.
The effort the speaker puts out has a similar impact on him. The speaker becomes “lonely, lost” as he seeks the ghost out. He mentions the ‘unseen waters’ soliloquies.” These are the thoughts and words of the water that are spoken as if it is alone. He is able to take in the essence of the world in a different way.
In the next lines, he reiterates that he doesn’t know where “you,” the ghost, is going to be next. To him, it seems like this person, who is later revealed to be a woman, is everywhere. No matter where he looks when he’s “Facing round,” he sees her “nut-coloured hair” and “gray eyes.” She comes and goes without warning.
Yes: I have re-entered your olden haunts at last;
Through the years, through the dead scenes I have tracked you;
What have you now found to say of our past –
Viewed across the dark space wherein I have lacked you?
Summer gave us sweets, but autumn wrought division?
Things were not lastly as firstly well
With us twain, you tell?
But all’s closed now, despite Time’s derision.
The speaker states that he has now “entered” again into the ghost’s “olden haunts.” These are the places that the ghost went when she was still alive. He goes to these places in order to try to hunt her down and speak with her, as stated in the first stanza. It has taken a lot of time and effort to go on this quest.
In the next line of ‘After a Journey’ the speaker asks the ghost a question, this is part of his “interview.” He wants to know, “What…[she has] now found to say of [their] past.” The speaker would like to have some answers about what happened between them. He is looking for a resolution to their relationship. Perhaps, he thinks, there are answers somewhere in the “dark space” the ghost inhabits.
He believes that it was the passage of time that forced them apart. At first, their relationship was like “Summer.” Everything was sweet. Then, autumn came and things changed.
I see what you are doing: you are leading me on
To the spots we knew when we haunted here together,
The waterfall, above which the mist-bow shone
At the then fair hour in the then fair weather,
And the cave just under, with a voice still so hollow
That it seems to call out to me from forty years ago,
When you were all aglow,
And not the thin ghost that I now frailly follow!
In the third stanza, the speaker tells the ghost that he knows what she’s doing now. She is “leading” him to the spots that they “haunted…together.” They will be able to temporarily come back together in the beautiful places they once knew. These include the “waterfall” and the “cave just under, with a voice so hollow.” This is another reference to a part of the landscape having the ability to speak. Everything is so meaningful to the speaker that the world is intimately communicating with him.
What the cave communicates to the speaker is an invitation to come back to the time, “forty years ago” when the ghost woman was “all aglow.” These were better times and the speaker is able to relive them for a few moments.
Ignorant of what there is flitting here to see,
The waked birds preen and the seals flop lazily,
Soon you will have, Dear, to vanish from me,
For the stars close their shutters and the dawn whitens hazily.
Trust me, I mind not, though Life lours,
The bringing of me here; nay, bring me here again!
I am just the same as when
Our days were a joy, and our paths through flowers.
In the fourth stanza of ‘After a Journey’ the speaker focuses on the fact that soon she “will have…to…vanish from [him].” The time they have together is temporary and he is well aware of that. Just as the “stars close their shutters and the day whitens hazily” their reunion will come to an end. The dawn brings an end to the ghost’s presence.
He reassures the ghost woman that he doesn’t mind that this is going to happen. This is despite the fact that “Life lours,” or is sullen without her. He loves that he has been able to relive these moments and hopes that he is able to return “here again!” It made him feel like the person he was when their days “were a joy” and their “paths” were “through flowers.”