W.H. Auden’s poem “As I Walked Out One Evening”, at first appears to be about a man taking an evening walk when he comes across a singing lover, who is quickly told numerous things by time. Digging deeper into the poem, we see the ultimate forewarning that the personified clock is giving the lover about the dangers in romanticizing time. Further than that, by looking at the hyperboles in “As I Walked Out One Evening”, we can see the dramatic contrast between time and the lover; this is important in helping us focus on the interest of man vs. the natural world, specifically how time is dominion over all.
The lover is first heard singing away from the world down by the river illustrating the escape from reality that people often find in romanticism. The lover begins with his main point of what’s to come saying, “Love has no ending”. The next three stanzas of the poem are hyperboles such as, “I’ll love you till the ocean is folded and hung up to dry”. The lover claims these impossible things to prove that his love is infinite and can never die, making time insignificant.
As if being challenged the clocks come to life to tell this lover that in fact his love will come to an end because no mortal, no object in this world escapes death. This shows that like justice, time treats everyone equally. Time though will always prove to be the crueler of the two because in the hidden nightmare that is reality, past the romanticized ideals we use desperately trying to escape, time is never distant but always looming waiting for us to meet our fate. Since we are unaware of the constant passing of time we spend it, “ In headaches and In worry”, we allow time to fly by. In which Time’s ultimate power of death eventually comes around for us all, “Into Green valley drifts the appalling snow”, meaning even the cold winter that is death will cover the most brilliant, beautiful, warm life.
Once the clock has told this truth he invites us to believe it using our own physical senses. “Stare, stare in the basin and wonder what you’ve missed” Taunting us the clock wants us to look and see with our own eyes that our reflection is aging in front of us, proof that we can’t defy the natural order of life. We’re going to age, life will continue to pass, we will all die, “seeing is believing”. Further the clock pleads with us “O look, look in the mirror, o look in your distress” the repetition of the word look, shows that the clock perhaps isn’t intending to be spiteful, but desperate for us to see the truth, meaning that the clock itself is in the same boat, possibly looking out for us. The clock takes a more positive tone sharing that although it’s short, this life is a blessing, even if we can’t grant anyone the power to escape life’s tragic mortal end.
Now that the clock sees we understand, he tells us to look out the window away from ourselves and at the rest of the world. Time not only ends for us; but for everything on Earth. My favorite quote from this poem, “You shall love your crooked neighbor with your crooked heart” is the most positive point of the poem; telling us that despite the fact we as humans are all imperfect, we are to embrace it because it’s the most we’re given out of this short time.
From the first stanza in this poem we begin to see the comparisons of man vs. the natural world made by the author, W.H. Auden. “Crowds upon the pavement were fields of harvest wheat”, this gives the golden aesthetically pleasing image of perhaps the sun setting over the city. Not to miss the author’s subtle way of letting us know straight from the beginning that we are all destined to be taken down (die). “River, railway”, “Mountain, street” the author is putting these natural occurrences before these industrialized man-made things. Before industrialization humans used means of crossing rivers, and mountains to get places. Now because of modern man’s achievements in industrializing we cross railways and streets. I believe Auden did this to show the quick and artificial ways we as people use to get to where we need to go, always searching for a faster route to save us time.
The clock describes to us that much like the absurdity of glaciers knocking in the cupboards, and deserts sighing in beds, time sees no difference between the natural and manmade elements. No matter how fast or slow we are, how scenic or built up our surroundings may be, time is still ruler over all. Auden emphasizes this by placing these two symbolisms now next to each other in the same lines. Like an open crack in a tea cup, the life will drain from us all. Time has its way of changing everything; making the beggars in charge, enemies into friends, innocence into wild impurity, and naïve children into sexual deviants. Time will always have its way, but even far after any of us are gone, the deep river that is time, will continue to run on.
The romanticism symbolized by nature and the manufactured feel of the manmade world clash together to form “realism” which I believe was Auden’s intent in this poem to express his personal beliefs. The lover, like nature was a symbolism of romanticism, while the clock which was a manmade device to measure time was like the other manufactured symbolisms of coldness, and ingenuity of the modern world. Meanwhile I believe the speaker represents Auden himself the all-knowing realist taking both extremes displayed, allowing them to sink in giving him an enlightened, authentic truth.