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Shmoop has a great deal for you. You like good deals, right? Sure you do. Who doesn't? What if we told you we knew where you could get a poem (no, wait, don't run off, stick with us here) with three—yes three—speakers instead of just one? And not only do you get three speakers, this poem hits all the big themes as well: Love, Time, and, of course, Death. All this and more can be yours when you read W.H. Auden's 1940 poem, "As I Walked Out One Evening."
As you probably guessed from the title, this poem is about a guy who takes a walk one evening. Simple, right? True, it doesn't sound like much but wait, there's more. On his walk, he encounters some pretty interesting things. In fact, he spends most of the poem eavesdropping on lovers down by the river and listening to some talking clocks (yeah, you read that right).
Wystan Hugh Auden (we can see why he went with W.H.) is one of the bigwigs of 20th century poetry. He was born in England in 1907 but spent a good deal of his later life abroad eventually becoming a U.S. citizen. Auden won the prestigious Pulitzer Prize in 1948 for his book The Age of Anxiety and he won lots of other important literary awards before his death in 1973.
Today, you'd be hard pressed to get through just about any anthology of modern poetry without coming across his poems. His ability to deal with big political, social, and psychological issues and themes in new and interesting ways set him apart from the pack. Besides being a celebrated poet, W.H. was an accomplished playwright and he even wrote libretti (the words for operas). Basically, the guy was an all-around literary genius.
So, what do you say? Do we have a deal or what?
We're all different, right? So we're going to have different tastes when it comes to things like movies, music, and (gulp) even literature. Some of us are story freaks that live for the plot and the twist. For others, it's the characters that float their boat. There are also those picture-people that are mostly just in it for the images. Still others (and this is definitely a freaky bunch) get their kicks from more technical aspects like form and meter. Different strokes for different folks, right? What if Shmoop told you we knew of a poem that could satisfy the needs of folks from all those groups? Well, we do. It's Auden's "As I Walked Out One Evening."
In just 60 lines, this poem offers a gripping plot filled with eavesdropping and surreal twists, a cast of unexpected characters, arresting imagery, and intricate, interesting formal components that will keep those prosody freaks entertained for hours. It isn't often that a poem brings all these aspects together in a way that is extremely readable and relevant (who isn't concerned with issues of Love, Time, and Death?), but that's just what we've got here. Auden manages to squeeze it all into this poem, and he makes it look pretty effortless. It truly is a poem that's got something for just about anyone.
W.H. Beginning to End
Here's a great Auden biography from the good folks The Poetry Foundation.
Auden, Auden, and More Auden
Browse here for Auden articles, additional poems, podcasts and more. Apologies if you go down a serious poetry rabbit hole.
Auden on Auden
Need some inspiration? W.H. recalls when he first decided to become a poet in this interview excerpt.
Auden Reading Auden
"As I Walked Out…" from the horse's mouth.
Dylan Thomas Reading Auden
One poetry super-star reading another. Which reading of "As I Walked Out…" do you prefer, Auden's or Thomas's?
We're gonna go out on a limb here and say he had a smoking habit. (We dare you to perform a Google Image search and find a shot of him without one.)
The Auden Interview
A fantastic interview from The Paris Review by Michael Newman that gives you a real sense of the poet's personality.
Auden in The New Yorker
Writer Adam Gopnik looks at Auden's place in poetry today.
Here's the book that "As I Walked Out…" first appeared in.
And the Winner Is…
And here's the book that won W.H. his Pulitzer Prize—The Age of Anxiety.
Auden Goes Hollywood (Well, Not Exactly)
W.H contributed a poem, "Night Mail," to this 1936 documentary. You probably aren't going to find this one on Netflix.
What do W.H. Auden and Hugh Grant Have in Common?
Here's a famous Auden poem, "Funeral Blues" in the Oscar nominated movie Four Weddings and a Funeral.