As I walked out one evening Analysis

W. H. Auden

The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“As I Walked out One Evening” contains fifteen four-line stanzas rhyming abcb. The rhymes are masculine; the meter is a flexible iambic trimeter with all the unrhymed lines ending with an additional unstressed syllable. The language of this poem, which has no title but is usually designated by its first line, is relatively simple, but the poem presents three voices, one of which conveys a relatively short but beautiful love lyric, embedded in a more elaborate structure that complicates the reader’s response.

The first voice, not that of a lover but of an observer who is walking on an urban street toward a river, occupies the first stanza and three lines of the second. The walker is in a mood to characterize the passing crowds of people as “fields of harvest wheat.” Nearing the “brimming river,” this person hears a voice brimming with the rapture of love.

The lovers are embracing under a railroad bridge. One of them, the poem’s second voice, is first heard in the last line of the second stanza, “Love has no ending,” an assertion that may serve as a title of the song that follows and certainly expressive of its theme. In the next three stanzas the lover pledges undying love in a series of extravagant assertions reminiscent of Robert Burns’s “A Red, Red Rose” (1796), in which the speaker vows to love his lady “till a’ the seas gang dry.” In this poem the couple’s love will continue “till the ocean/ Is...

(The entire section is 453 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“As I Walked out One Evening” reflects Auden’s interest in the ballad, a form which he often practiced in the late 1930’s, when this poem was composed. The stanza is a slight variation of the ballad stanza of alternate tetrameter and trimeter lines, while the rhyme scheme is typical of the ballad. Several characteristics of the venerable English and Scottish folk ballad tradition are found here: plain diction, carefully calculated repetitions of words and phrases, a tendency toward dialogue, abrupt transitions, and a pervasive sense of irony.

Only four words in the poem have more than two syllables, and a number of lines are entirely monosyllabic. The repetitions include the lover’s “I’ll love you”; the third voice’s iteration of imperative verbs such as “plunge,” “look,” and “stand”; and the adjectival repetition at the beginning of the last stanza: “It was late, late in the evening.” The simplicity of the language heightens the emotional complexity of the poem. The lover’s vows are packed with images of vitality, but the stark imagery that follows suggests a world whose corruption threatens to infect lovers no matter how sincere their intentions.

The irony exists on two levels. It is ironic that the lovers can hardly imagine the difficulties involved in maintaining their devotion through the ordinary vicissitudes of life. This poem, however, envelops not only the characters but also its audience in the...

(The entire section is 504 words.)