Below is a complete analysis of the form, structure and language of Wystan Hugh Auden’s poem As I Walked Out One Evening. Feel free to skip to the parts most relevant to you.
- The poem adopts the Elegiac form. This form is associated with a song of mourning.
- This form relates to the poem which is about time. The form is mournful making clear it wants to stop all the clocks and time.
- The voice is in first person ‘As I walked out’ which could be Auden talking to the reader. Therefore, the silent listener being us is being directly spoken to.
- The poem uses Quatrain rhyming of ABCB. Each stanza is four lines long. This reflects upon the consistency of time just like If I Could Tell You does.
- The rhythm of the poem is Iambic tetrameter and triameter. This means the rhythms uses iambs (un-stress / stress) with four beats and three beats to the line. There is definitely a musical quality to this poem like there is with Miss Gee.
- The structure tries to show the characteristics of time.
- ‘As I walked out one evening’. By mentioning the evening makes clear it is the passing and end of the day. This creates a fatality that time is up.
- There is the use of modern context but there is also archaic diction, ‘Bristol Street’. Therefore, time is vague.
- Auden compares the crowds to ‘fields of harvest wheat’. The crowds are waiting to be cut down by time.
- The ‘brimming river’ is a symbol of eternity.
- ‘under the arch of the railway’ is not romantic where a ‘lover’ would sing. Instead, this is where prostitutes would meet clients.
- ‘Love has no ending’ is ironic especially when referring to another of Auden’s poems If I Could Tell You where Auden makes clear love ends because of time.
- ‘Till China and Africa meet’ refers to the movements of continents. This is a time frame that will take a long time.
- ‘salmon sing in the street’ implies eternal love.
- There is the use of a metaphor, ‘I’ll love you till the ocean / Is folded and hung up dry’. This refers to timelessness and makes love seem more powerful that it can fold up the whole ocean.
- ‘And the seven stars go squawking / Like geese about the sky’ means that until the planets and the stars move in the sky, I will love you.
- There is Biblical reference, ‘ And the first love of the world’, which was Adam and Eve.
- There is the use of onomatopoeic words such as ‘whirr’ and ‘chime’. Another voice is now heard being the clocks and time. This is made clear through the personification of time with a capital letter ‘Time’.
- This almighty love cannot last forever, ‘You cannot conquer Time’.
- The tone of the language now becomes darker, ‘Nightmare’.
- ‘Time watches from the shadow / And coughs when you would kiss’. Time gets in the way of love and ruins it. This makes clear that Time is a threat.
- There is emphasis on the notion of life leaking away, Vaguely life leaks away’.
- Time and death are irresistible forces and are always in control.
- The ‘green valley’ represents a pleasant paradise.
- ‘Plunge them in up to the wrist’ brings the reader back to the present.
- Line 41-42 describes how the romance has gone. Line 43-44 states that a ‘crack’ has opened the doorway to death. The use of ‘lane’ and ‘and’ produces powerful rhythm.
- There is reference to fairy tales and nursery rhymes, ‘Giant is enchanting to Jack’ and ‘Jill goes down on her back’.
- Line 49-52 makes clear that life is precious but you can’t keep it forever.
- ‘tears scald and start’ means the tears are hot.
- Line 55-56 has Auden wanting to bring the message forward that you should love thy neighbour is an imperfect way.
- The repetition of ‘late, late’ illustrates death is coming.
The clocks had ceased their chiming,
And the deep river ran on.
Even when the clocks stop, the river representing time will continue. The river represents time itself.