As I Walked Out One Evening

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W.H. Auden’s poem “As I Walked Out One Evening” belongs to the long tradition of poems chronicling the struggle between love and time. Like others, Auden’s lover uses images of “The Flower” (l. 19) and grandiose claims of love “Till China and Africa meet” (l. 10) to impress or coax the unseen lover to comply with his wishes. However, Auden deviates from this tradition in other ways. For example, these other works are mainly seduction poems. In Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress”, time is (by association) a third party to a seduction, invoked to create fear and put pressure on the seducée by reminding her of her mortality- as well as the seducer’s own vulnerability, and thus goad her towards his own ends. “As I Walked Out One Evening” is a narrative poem, and essentially a dialogue between a lover speaking to the unseen love and time responding to counter his claims. Auden argues that people are unaware of the world they live in and do not truly understand what it means to love and live by usage of apocalyptic images and a running motive of both time and water. “As I Walked Out One Evening” was written in 1937, a time of turmoil throughout the world and especially in Europe: the world was in hiatus between “the war to end all wars” and the second “war to end all wars” and Hitler was at this time gradually rising in power. Auden was very aware of the political climate, and this is reflected in his diction in the latter part of the poem. The fact that there are three distinct parts to this poem, the lover’s speech and the two halves of time’s speech, is indicative of the contemporary political clime: because the first World War was so horrifying many people could not believe and did not want to believe that it could happen aga... ... middle of paper ... ... the poem: the observer who is a part of the scene and yet apart from it, who has a more distant perspective. In the first stanza, the exposition or setting, Auden uses the metaphor of “The crowds upon the pavement/Were fields of harvest wheat” (ll. 3-4) as observed by the narrator to first foreshadow the immediacy of time. “Harvest wheat” is both something living and something that is about to scythed and gathered en masse. The observer already has the knowledge that comes so painfully in stanza 14 for the lover, and in the end not only has “the deep river ran on” (l. 60) but so has the narrator. They are still here, “late in the evening” (l. 57) to observe the river of life that is still running, even after “the clocks had ceased their chiming” (l. 59) and “the lovers they were gone” (l. 58), symbolizing that life will endure the ravages of both death and time.

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