Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A Poem to Share: W.H. Auden's "As I Walked Out One Evening"

Well, I have to admit I'm having trouble coming up with new and exciting lists. I have lots of ideas, but not a lot of time to carefully investigate each one. Even worse, I have a feeling I would keep mentioning a lot of the same books and writers over and over again. So instead, I'd like to share a super-awesome poem with you all. Every few months, I suddenly become obsessed with a poet. And I think my latest obsession might be W.H. Auden, an English poet who moved to America around the same time as his creative high-point. His poem "As I Walked Out One Evening" is quickly becoming one of my favorite poems. It's quite beautiful, and with its unusual and pretty images and colloquial rhyme and meter, it's a delight to read aloud. I admit I don't totally understand what the poem's about, and I hope you will all agree you don't have to "get it" to like it. Enjoy!

"As I Walked Out One Evening," by 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
Tomorrow 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 neighbor
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 hope you all found something to like in it. I personally am obsessed with the 11th stanza ("The glacier...of the dead"). I've been wandering around all week quoting it in my mind.

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