As I Walked Out One Evening Summary by W. H. Auden
“As I Walked Out One Evening” is a poem by W. H. Auden, written in 1937. TThe story starts as the speaker strolls through the city’s streets, running into a variety of symbolic characters and striking up discussions that go deeply into existential and philosophical concepts. The opening account of the evening, the interactions with various persons, and the recurring themes of time and love comprise the poem’s three main sections.
The poem begins with a serene depiction of an evening walk. The speaker describes the setting with vivid imagery, capturing the essence of a peaceful and picturesque scene. The initial tone is one of tranquility, with the speaker reveling in the beauty of nature and the urban environment. However, this idyllic atmosphere is soon disrupted by the intrusion of a clock, marking the transition to a more contemplative and introspective mood.
The speaker meets a variety of characters along the way that stand in for various facets of experience and life. These interactions provide as a means of delving into more complex philosophical ideas. The “Lover,” who fervently professes his love for his adored, is one prominent figure. The concept of love and its relationship to time is introduced by this interaction. The clock’s ticking and the lover’s declaration are contrasted to emphasize the conflict between love’s eternal quality and time’s unrelenting passage of time.
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Another character, the “Old Man,” provides a contrasting perspective on time. The Old Man, who is portrayed as wise and experienced, imparts a somber message about the inevitability of aging and the inescapable passage of time. This encounter adds a layer of complexity to the poem’s exploration of temporality, emphasizing the transient nature of human existence.
The poem also introduces the figure of “Death,” who appears as an ominous presence, casting a shadow over the proceedings. The encounter with Death serves as a reminder of mortality, further intensifying the themes of time and impermanence. Death’s appearance adds a sense of urgency to the speaker’s reflections, prompting them to consider the brevity of life and the importance of seizing the moment.
The dialogue between the characters contributes to the overall philosophical depth of the poem. The lover’s impassioned declaration, the Old Man’s sobering wisdom, and Death’s ominous presence collectively contribute to the exploration of profound existential questions. Through these encounters, the poem delves into the complexities of human emotion, the fleeting nature of time, and the inevitability of mortality.
The concluding stanzas of the poem bring these themes to a climax, as the speaker grapples with the implications of the encounters and the overarching messages conveyed by the characters. The poem ultimately suggests that love, despite its eternal and transcendent qualities, exists within the framework of time. The tension between the lover’s timeless passion and the relentless ticking of the clock underscores the paradoxical nature of human experience.
The final lines of the poem return to the initial scene of the evening walk, creating a circular structure that reinforces the cyclical nature of time. The poem concludes with a poignant reflection on the interplay between love and time, leaving the reader with a sense of contemplation and a heightened awareness of life’s fleeting moments.
As I Walked Out One Evening Poem
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.
“As I Walked Out One Evening” by W. H. Auden is a timeless poem that captures the essence of the human experience through its exploration of time, love, and mortality. The poem’s rich imagery, symbolic characters, and philosophical depth contribute to its enduring appeal. Auden’s masterful use of language and poetic devices creates a tapestry of emotions and reflections, inviting readers to contemplate the complexities of life.
The poem’s central themes of love and time are intricately woven together, with the encounters between the speaker and various symbolic figures serving as windows into the human condition. The juxtaposition of the lover’s passion, the Old Man’s wisdom, and Death’s ominous presence paints a nuanced portrait of existence, highlighting the tension between the eternal and the transient.
The circular structure of the poem, returning to the initial scene of the evening walk, reinforces the cyclical nature of time and leaves the reader with a sense of contemplation. Ultimately, “As I Walked Out One Evening” encourages us to embrace the fleeting moments of life, recognizing the beauty and impermanence that define our existence.
1. What is the central theme of “As I Walked Out One Evening”?
The central themes of the poem include time, love, and mortality. The poem explores the interplay between these themes, examining how human experiences of passion and wisdom are situated within the framework of time and the inevitability of death.
2. How does Auden use imagery in the poem?
Auden employs vivid imagery to paint a picture of the evening walk and to evoke the emotions associated with the encounters between the speaker and the symbolic characters. The imagery contributes to the reader’s sensory experience and enhances the overall impact of the poem.
3. What is the significance of the encounters with different characters in the poem?
The characters in the poem, such as the Lover, the Old Man, and Death, serve as symbolic representations of different aspects of the human experience. These encounters contribute to the exploration of existential questions and add depth to the poem’s themes of love, time, and mortality.
4. How does the poem address the concept of time?
Time is a pervasive theme in the poem, symbolized by the ticking clock. The encounters with the Lover, the Old Man, and Death provide different perspectives on time, highlighting its dual nature as both a force that shapes human experiences and an inevitable march toward mortality.
5. What is the significance of the circular structure of the poem?
The circular structure, returning to the initial scene of the evening walk, reinforces the cyclical nature of time and creates a sense of continuity. It emphasizes the eternal recurrence of moments and prompts readers to reflect on the cyclical nature of life and the timeless aspects of human experience.