In W.H. Auden's poem, "As I Walked Out One Evening" what does "love your crooked neighbor with your crooked heart" mean?

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W. H. Auden's poem, "As I Walked Out One Evening," deals with the naiveté of youth and its rosy-hued world colored by love, and the contradiction present in the passing of time that robs us all of love, youth, innocence, and ultimately, life.

The message of one lover to the other describes an endless dedication and love. The images are gentle, romantic and perhaps even familiar.

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...

However, the element of Time is introduced—personified as something that does not stop. More constant and more insidiously destructive than anything else is the passing of time, which no one or thing can escape.

But all the clocks in the city

Began to whirr and chime:

'O let not Time deceive you,

You cannot conquer Time.

The speaker seems to caution that we not lose sight of things left undone that have their own importance, especially (perhaps) once the opportunity to pursue it is past. This stanza almost has the sound of "the road to hell is paved with good intentions." The glacier and the desert may represent great adventures open to the young who may still withstand the ice and heat. Missed opportunities also carry us to the end of our time.

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.

The stanza near the poem's end that you ask about describes someone standing at the kitchen window, crying, perhaps over missed opportunities, or the knowledge of the inevitability of death. The final two lines of the stanza refer to loving others who are bent or twisted—or dishonest—just as our own hearts are.

O stand, stand at the window

As the tears scald and start;

You shall love your crooked neighbour

With your crooked heart.

Where love allows us to see the world as a perfect place, the speaker reminds us that the world is anything but. "Crooked" probably means "bent," "twisted" or "askew." In this case, it would seem that the speaker tells the reader that we are all "emotionally deformed" in some way; but even so, perhaps we still need to love others as best as we are able.

The last stanza drives home the point that lovers go and the clocks stop chiming, but the silence is beguiling: in the long run, it all leads to one end: death.


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