How does, As I Walked Out One Evening by W H Auden describe society? Please make reference to structure, meter and figurative language.

Expert Answers
durbanville eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As I walked Out One Evening by W H Auden has the reader, at the beginning, feeling hopeful and the narrator feeling inspired to observe society, which he describes as "fields of harvest wheat." He speaks of a "brimming river" and a person so in love who is encouraged to sing because "Love has no ending." The lyrical tone of the first five stanzas creates images of a perfect ending to the day until "Time" catches up in the sixth stanza; time is a force that is not easily overcome because, "You cannot conquer time." 

The poem, a ballad, has a simple rhyming pattern in all of its four line stanzas with the second and fourth lines rhyming (abcb). The meter is accommodating with an unstressed extra syllable in the non-rhyming lines which gives the poem its consistency despite the changing emotions throughout the poem. 

The personification, as the "salmon sing in the street" and the "river jumps over the mountain" is playful and the image is quite absurd which adds to the image of the enduring quality of love. The concept of undying love is continued with talk of the ocean "folded and hung up to dry," which is a quaint and clever metaphor using laundry, a household chore, followed closely by the use of simile to create a sharp contrast in the "stars squawking like geese." The beautiful and illuminating stars will never be "squawking."  

However, the word "But," which begins the sixth stanza, brings the lovers and the reader down to earth. Life, or "time" catches up and the image is ominous, causing a "nightmare," and even the tone is unpleasant as "Time...coughs when you would kiss." After the shocking realization, the "nightmare" transforms into a sad realization and "vaguely life leaks away." This, despite the same rhyme scheme, slows the poem down. Desperation follows, quickening the pace, and the narrator begs: "Plunge your hands in water..."

Even the nursery rhymes, which, as a whole, are an essential element of any society in expressing sentiment and teaching lessons and morals become contradictory examples of how life is is not dependable but, it should not be forgotten that "Life is still a blessing" even when it does not seem that way and "tears scald and start." The conflicting sentiments support the idea that life is unpredictable and should never be taken for granted. The reader is ultimately reminded that life goes on and "the deep river" still flows.  It is up to the reader's own interpretation as to whether the lovers, having "gone," are still together or whether it is "too late" for them. Hopefully not!