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As I Walked Out One Evening

1327 words - 6 pages

The clocks seem to speak for time, but in fact they represent the human marking of time. Time exists as a continuum, but clocks take the concept of time and force a structure on it. In this way, the clocks speak for time far less than they speak for society’s rules and conventions.The formatting of the poem reinforces this notion. The rhyme scheme is an abcb defe pattern that demonstrates the dichotomy between the constant flow of time and the structure forced upon it by society. The unrhymed lines are constantly changing, flowing throughout the piece. The rhymed lines represent the forced structure – the conventions embodied in the clocks. This image of the clocks within the layout of the ...view middle of the document...

“[Time] coughs when you would kiss” (28) says cultural and convention are more powerful than love. You may love truly and deeply, but you are still subject to Time. Furthermore, that it interrupts a kiss – a fairly mundane display of love and affection – demonstrates that it is commonplace occurrence that Time conquers love.

This contention between love and convention could possibly stem from Auden’s personal struggles with courtship, marriage, and sexuality. Auden married Erika Mann in 1935, though it was ostensibly more of a contract of mutual benefit than a romantic union. Auden himself is said to be homosexual. His marriage to Erika Mann would grant her British citizenship, and therefore allow her to escape the persecution she would face in Nazi Germany, and would allow him to fulfill social expectations. It is said that their marriage was never consummated ("Auden, W.H."). Auden moved to the United States in 1939, where he would live out the rest of his life, gaining U.S. citizenship in 1946. There he met a fellow poet, Chester Kallman. Kallman became his companion, and, for all intents and purposes, their relationship was more of a marriage than his relationship with Erika Mann ever would be (“Historic Figures: WH Auden”).

It would not be unreasonable to infer that Auden struggled with aligning the public persona, where he was married to Mann and a close friend and confidant with Kallman, with the reality which was the opposite. Such a stilted love life that, given the time frame, would be demoralized by the society at large would easily instill a sense of fragility in ways of romantic relations. The meaningless contract of convenience is legally and socially legitimized, where the long term, emotional commitment is rejected. This would easily explain the transcendental romanticism and its debasement by societal conventions evident in this poem.

Despite this conflict, Auden seems to be tentatively optimistic, as illustrated through the voice of the narrator. This third speaker’s lines are characterized by images of nature which Auden ultimately uses to illustrate the true passage of time. In the first stanza, he says “The crowds upon the pavement / Were fields of harvest wheat” (3-4). Harvest, in this case, is key. The harvest indicates the end of the growing season, and so a life with an end in sight. The crowds represent humanity as a whole, and so encompass both the conventionality symbolized in the clocks, and the romantic idealism of the lover’s song. They are in fruition now, like the harvest wheat, but their time will end. Similarly, in “Into many a green valley / Drifts the appalling snow” (33-34) the snow indicates the ending of a season. Snow is often linked with the notion of purity, or wiping something clean. In this way, all creations, experiences and conventions will eventually be erased, overtaken by a new...

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