W.H. Auden's As I Walked Out One Evening


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.
–W. H. Auden

Analysis of the poem

In the first stanza, the mentioning of "Bristol Street" takes one by surprise. Bristol is England's sixth most populous city. And and Bristol being the largest centre of culture, employment and scholarship in the region, it is looked upon in a tragic manner. As a simple walk in 'Bristol Street' will contain images, and arouse thoughts that questions the morality of man. The morality of wars.

(Whirr: Sound of something in rapid motion)
In the second and third stanza, the verse "Love has no ending" seems like a universal statement. But as seen in the poem, the speaker extends his love and says, "I'll love you, dear, I'll love you/Till China and Africa meet" that is suggest that he wants to become or the speaker feels he is part of that "deep river" [last stanza] that will continue forever.

For me this You seems like  "fields of harvest wheat". And this "coughs when you would kiss." seems like a process, let's think - to be honest, I've to think more. If you know how can I relate to an imagery of "fields of harvest" let me know.

'In the burrows of the Nightmare
Where Justice naked is,
Time watches from the shadow
And coughs when you would kiss.

I can relate the above passage to war as well. Like burrow of the wheat fields once could possibly be field of wars. Burrows being he imagery of death burrows or graves dug up for the dead to be buried. 'Justice' being the death. 'Time watches from the shadow', for me this 'Time' becomes the shadow of the person watching the grave or the grave digger or the possibly the people who are just standing there in front of the dug out grave. 'Time' being on their side.

'In headaches and in worry
Vaguely life leaks away,
And Time will have his fancy
To-morrow or to-day.

This situation can easily be related to time of worry. Like in your normal life or possibly in wars, the trouble in even thinking of those dramatic-times eats away your time. "Time will have his fancy" for me it can related in two ways, firstly Time is the force that would win out in the end, time being the energy that is in command of us all.

Continuing on the destruction and change time brings, this verse in the ninth stanza "Time breaks the threaded dances" is the continuation of this theme. 

For me in the tenth stanza mentioning of the 'plunge' and 'stare' is here in this poem to increase the intensity of what human generation has been upto. How it has been changing history destructively leaving behind countless tragedies along the way.

This eleventh stanza is a heavy one, if you are read it from the start. "And the crack in the tea-cup opens/A lane to the land of the dead." You can very well form the imagery. For example, if you were in a war field, maybe a wheat field and you have a container or something that could be cracked nearby that crack will open a lane to the land of the dead.

In the twelfth stanza, "beggars raffle the banknotes", "Giant is enchanting to Jack", "And the Lily-white Boy is a Roarer/And Jill goes down on her back". Now the situation is changed, people are now moving forward. As if, they have to - they have no choice - one  has to move forward. Stagnation cannot exist.

In the thirteenth stanza, "Mirror" still portrays that state of "distress" and  but life according to the speaker remains a "blessing" but you cannot it (a blessing) so.

In the fourteenth stanza, I must mention earlier that the repetition of the words, "look, look" (in the earlier stanza) and "stand, stand" in this stanza connects. And this standing and looking in the mirror is a sort of accepting what the "crooked" truth they've to face. As the usurper becomes their neighbour. 

In the last and fifteenth stanza, "The lovers they were gone;/The clocks had ceased their chiming,/And the deep river ran on."The whole stanza is showing that sleep overcame probably through death or probably through the fact that time never stops only for the one who are no more or who have crookedness in their heart, who wants to take revenge, right now

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