As I Walked Out One Evening


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 singing
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 today.

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 on 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.


W.H. Auden, Collected Poems, Random House, 2007.