"As I Walked Out One Evening" is W.H. Auden's song of disillusionment, mortality, and love. The poem's speaker wanders out for an evening stroll and overhears a kind of debate between a young lover, who believes that "love has no ending," and all the city's clocks, which counter that "you cannot conquer time." These personified clocks sing of all life's disappointments and endings—but also suggest that, in spite of the fact that love does have an ending, one must nevertheless go on trying to "love your crooked neighbor / With your crooked heart." Love isn't a liberating, all-conquering force, this poem says: it's a humble, brave task, taken on in the face of death itself. This poem first appeared in Auden's 1940 collection Another Time.
As I walked ...
... of harvest wheat.
And down by ...
... in the street,
"I'll love you ...
... of the world."
But all the ...
... cannot conquer Time.
"In the burrows ...
... you would kiss.
"In headaches and ...
... To-morrow or to-day.
"Into many a ...
... diver's brilliant bow.
"O plunge your ...
... what you've missed.
"The glacier knocks ...
... of the dead.
"Where the beggars ...
... on her back.
"O look, look ...
... your crooked heart."
It was late, ...
... river ran on.
Select any word below to get its definition in the context of the poem. The words are listed in the order in which they appear in the poem.
Auden's Influence — Read an appreciation of Auden that discusses his lasting influence.
A Brief Biography — Learn more about Auden's life and work via the Poetry Foundation.
Auden on Film — Watch footage of Auden reciting some of his light verse (and enjoy both his sense of humor and his wonderfully craggy face).
The Poem Aloud — Listen to Auden himself reading this poem out loud.
Auden and Music — Visit the British Library's website to learn more about how popular music influenced Auden's poetry—including this poem, which was originally titled "Song."
1As I walked out one evening,
2 Walking down Bristol Street,
3The crowds upon the pavement
4 Were fields of harvest wheat.
5And down by the brimming river
6 I heard a lover sing
7Under an arch of the railway:
8 "Love has no ending.
9"I'll love you, dear, I'll love you
10 Till China and Africa meet,
11And the river jumps over the mountain
12 And the salmon sing in the street,
13"I'll love you till the ocean
14 Is folded and hung up to dry
15And the seven stars go squawking
16 Like geese about the sky.
17"The years shall run like rabbits,
18 For in my arms I hold
19The Flower of the Ages,
20 And the first love of the world."
21But all the clocks in the city
22 Began to whirr and chime:
23"O let not Time deceive you,
24 You cannot conquer Time.
25"In the burrows of the Nightmare
26 Where Justice naked is,
27Time watches from the shadow
28 And coughs when you would kiss.
29"In headaches and in worry
30 Vaguely life leaks away,
31And Time will have his fancy
32 To-morrow or to-day.
33"Into many a green valley
34 Drifts the appalling snow;
35Time breaks the threaded dances
36 And the diver's brilliant bow.
37"O plunge your hands in water,
38 Plunge them in up to the wrist;
39Stare, stare in the basin
40 And wonder what you've missed.
41"The glacier knocks in the cupboard,
42 The desert sighs in the bed,
43And the crack in the tea-cup opens
44 A lane to the land of the dead.
45"Where the beggars raffle the banknotes
46 And the Giant is enchanting to Jack,
47And the Lily-white Boy is a Roarer,
48 And Jill goes down on her back.
49"O look, look in the mirror,
50 O look in your distress:
51Life remains a blessing
52 Although you cannot bless.
53"O stand, stand at the window
54 As the tears scald and start;
55You shall love your crooked neighbour
56 With your crooked heart."
57It was late, late in the evening,
58 The lovers they were gone;
59The clocks had ceased their chiming,
60 And the deep river ran on.