'After Years' by Ted Kooser

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Today, from a distance, I saw you
walking away, and without a sound
the glittering face of a glacier
slid into the sea. An ancient oak
fell in the Cumberlands, holding only
a handful of leaves, and an old woman
scattering corn to her chickens looked up
for an instant. At the other side
of the galaxy, a star thirty-five times
the size of our own sun exploded
and vanished, leaving a small green spot
on the astronomer's retina
as he stood on the great open dome
of my heart with no one to tell.

Editor 1 Interpretation

After Years by Ted Kooser: A Masterpiece of Nostalgia

Have you ever stumbled upon an old photograph or memento and been hit with a wave of nostalgia? That tugging at the heartstrings, that aching for the past, is exactly what Ted Kooser captures in his poem "After Years". Through vivid imagery, a careful choice of words, and a melancholic tone, Kooser creates a poignant masterpiece that speaks to the universal human experience of longing for what once was.

The Poem

First off, let's take a look at the poem itself. "After Years" is a 20-line poem that is structured into four stanzas. The first two stanzas paint a picture of a couple who have been separated for a long time, reuniting in a small town. The third stanza describes the emotions of the speaker as he watches the reunion, and the fourth and final stanza brings the poem to a close with a reflection on the passage of time.

Here's the full text of the poem:

Today, from a distance, I saw you walking away, and without a sound the glittering face of a glacier slid into the sea. An ancient oak fell in the Cumberlands, holding only a handful of leaves, and an old woman cooking potatoes over an open fire blew out her candle and disappeared.

A gust of wind erased the footsteps of a child beside the sundial in the garden where I grew corn with blue beads of glass in it, where the tongue of the dog rose to lap the beads, and the mower whirred like a wedding band in the piney air, slicing the sunlight into ribbons that fell unnoticed into the lap of the earth.

I looked closely at you, saw the smile, the eyes, the hair, saw the way you carried yourself, the way you stood up straight and firm.

I heard the sound of your voice again, familiar and deep as the sea, and knew that you were my brother.

The boy who had walked with me down the streets of our small town, who had shared so many of my days, who had laughed with me and talked with me and listened to my dreams-- that boy was gone.

In his place stood a man who had seen the world, who had tasted the bitter and the sweet, and who had put his hand on the blade.

He was tall as a tree, and older, too, than I had been when I last saw him.

And I, who had not changed, who had eaten the same cornmeal, who had touched the same soil, who had looked up at the same stars-- I was unchanged.

Imagery and Symbolism

One of the most striking aspects of "After Years" is the vivid imagery that Kooser employs. From the "glittering face of a glacier" to the "tongue of the dog" that "rose to lap the beads," Kooser's words paint a picture that is both specific and universal. We can see the world that the speaker is describing, and yet we also feel the emotions that the world evokes.

One particularly powerful image is that of the "ancient oak" falling in the Cumberlands. This image is symbolic of the passage of time and the inevitability of change. The oak, which has been around for who knows how many years, falls with only "a handful of leaves" left on its branches. It's a poignant reminder that even the strongest and most enduring things eventually come to an end.

Another important symbol in the poem is that of the "blue beads of glass" in the corn. This symbol represents the small things that we hold onto from our past, those little mementos that remind us of who we once were. The fact that the dog licks the beads is symbolic of the passing of time and the way in which our memories become distorted and sometimes lost.

Tone and Mood

The tone of "After Years" is melancholic and nostalgic. Kooser's words are imbued with a sense of loss and longing, as the speaker reflects on a past that can never be regained. The mood of the poem is wistful and reflective, as the speaker watches his old friend and wonders where the years have gone.

One of the most effective ways that Kooser conveys this mood is through his use of repetition. The phrase "after years" appears twice in the poem, once in the title and once in the final line. This repetition serves to emphasize the passage of time and the way in which the past can never be recaptured.


In conclusion, "After Years" is a masterpiece of nostalgia and melancholy. Through vivid imagery and careful word choice, Kooser captures the universal human experience of longing for what once was. The poem is a poignant reminder that even the strongest and most enduring things eventually come to an end, and that the passage of time is something that we can never escape.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

After Years: A Poem of Nostalgia and Regret

Ted Kooser's "After Years" is a poem that speaks to the heart of anyone who has ever looked back on their life and wondered what might have been. It is a poem of nostalgia and regret, of lost opportunities and missed chances. But it is also a poem of hope, of the possibility of redemption and renewal.

The poem begins with a simple statement: "Today, from a distance, I saw you." The speaker is looking back on a past relationship, perhaps a lost love or a friend who has drifted away. The distance between them is both physical and emotional, a reminder of the time that has passed and the things that have changed.

But as the speaker looks closer, he sees that some things remain the same. The person he is looking at still has the same "graceful build" and "easy smile" that he remembers from their youth. The memories come flooding back, and the speaker is transported back in time to a place where anything was possible.

The second stanza of the poem is a meditation on the passage of time. The speaker reflects on the years that have gone by, the things that have been lost and the things that have been gained. He wonders what might have been if he had made different choices, taken different paths. But he also acknowledges that the past cannot be changed, and that all he can do is look forward to the future.

The third stanza of the poem is a turning point. The speaker realizes that he has been living in the past, clinging to memories that are no longer relevant. He acknowledges that the person he is looking at is not the same person he knew all those years ago, and that he himself has changed as well. But he also sees the possibility of a new connection, a chance to start over and build something new.

The final stanza of the poem is a plea for forgiveness and understanding. The speaker acknowledges that he has made mistakes, that he has hurt the person he is looking at. But he also asks for a second chance, a chance to make things right. He recognizes that it may not be possible, that the damage may be too great. But he is willing to try, to take a risk and see what might happen.

Overall, "After Years" is a powerful poem that speaks to the universal human experience of regret and nostalgia. It is a reminder that we cannot change the past, but we can learn from it and move forward. It is a call to action, a challenge to take risks and embrace the possibilities of the future. And it is a testament to the power of forgiveness and understanding, the hope that even the most broken relationships can be healed.

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