As I Walked Out One Evening | W.H. Auden

As I Walked Out One Evening

W.H. Auden

As I walked out one evening,

Walking down Bristol Street,

The crowds upon the pavement

Were fields of harvest wheat.

And down by the brimming river

I heard a lover sing

Under an arch of the railway:

‘Love has no ending.

‘I’ll love you, dear, I’ll love you

Till China and Africa meet,

And the river jumps over the mountain

And the salmon sing in the street,

‘I’ll love you till the ocean

Is folded and hung up to dry

And the seven stars go squawking

Like geese about the sky.

‘The years shall run like rabbits,

For in my arms I hold

The Flower of the Ages,

And the first love of the world.'

But all the clocks in the city

Began to whirr and chime:

‘O let not Time deceive you,

You cannot conquer Time.

‘In the burrows of the Nightmare

Where Justice naked is,

Time watches from the shadow

And coughs when you would kiss.

‘In headaches and in worry

Vaguely life leaks away,

And Time will have his fancy

To-morrow or to-day.

‘Into many a green valley

Drifts the appalling snow;

Time breaks the threaded dances

And the diver’s brilliant bow.

‘O plunge your hands in water,

Plunge them in up to the wrist;

Stare, stare in the basin

And wonder what you’ve missed.

‘The glacier knocks in the cupboard,

The desert sighs in the bed,

And the crack in the tea-cup opens

A lane to the land of the dead.

‘Where the beggars raffle the banknotes

And the Giant is enchanting to Jack,

And the Lily-white Boy is a Roarer,

And Jill goes down on her back.

‘O look, look in the mirror,

O look in your distress:

Life remains a blessing

Although you cannot bless.

‘O stand, stand at the window

As the tears scald and start;

You shall love your crooked neighbour

With your crooked heart.'

It was late, late in the evening,

The lovers they were gone;

The clocks had ceased their chiming,

And the deep river ran on.

I love this poem because it captures life in a raw way, juxtaposing loving optimism and utter realism. The ample use of imagery, metaphor, allusion to classic stories, and personification of time give the speaker both a cautionary and melancholy tone. I particularly enjoy how the speaker plays with speed in the poem beginning slowly with a walk on Bristol, then quickly picking up the tempo with the lines,

“But all the clocks in the city

Began to whirr and chime:"

and the speakers warning,

"‘O let not Time deceive you,

You cannot conquer Time”.

Finally, the tempo returns to its original languid pace as the speaker breaks free of his trance and returns to the peaceful night. The movements between present moment and reverie create the sensation of time travel. With quatrains and an ABCB rhyme scheme, Auden's poem brings readers on a journey through time and forces us to consider the true nature of time and its role in our own recklessly optimistic lives.

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