The rhyming quatrains give "As I walked Out One Evening" a distinct ballad sound and feel. But there are some more subtle auditory elements at work here, too. Get out those Shmoop-o-scopes. We're going in for a closer look.
Repeat After Auden, Please
Auden uses lots of repetition in this one and it goes a long way to achieving a sound that supports the poem's themes and imagery. We can see this repetition at work starting in stanza 10 with, "stare, stare" and continuing in stanzas 13, 14, and 15 with "look, look," "stand, stand," and "late, late." Each example comes toward the beginning of a line and is a repeated, single syllable word.
Remember, this poem is all about Time and the speaker in these stanzas is a clock. In this poem, clocks have lots to say and sport pretty solid vocabularies. In the real world, clocks have a far more limited linguistic range. Tick, tick, tick, is about all clocks have to say here at Shmoop headquarters.
Hmmmm. Notice anything about all this clock-talk? Looks like those repeated, single syllable words are actually echoing the repeated single syllables of the clock's ticking: tick tick, look look, stand stand. See, see? This repetition lets us hear and feel the time ticking away exactly as the clock in the poem tells us it is. Pretty sneaky W.H., pretty sneaky.
Alliteration, Consonance… a.k.a. Still More Repetition
In addition to the ballad stanza form (see the "Form and Meter"), Auden throws in some alliteration and consonance. The repetition kind of adds to the poem's song-like feel. For example: "And the seven stars go squawking." The alliteration of those S sounds really ties the line together making it feel almost song-like.
Take a look at these lines from stanza 7:
Time watches from the shadow
And coughs when you would kiss.
The consonance in these two lines (the repetition of those S and C/K sounds) gives this line kind of a creepy, hissing sound that fits with the content of the line. Kiss is usually such a nice word, but the consonance ties it to the C sound in cough and makes it, well, not so nice.
Other examples of consonance, "run like rabbits" with the R sound and "clocks had ceased their chiming" with the C and S sounds add the bouncy feeling of a nursery rhyme. This nursery rhyme feel coupled with the bleakness of some of the poem's themes regarding Time and Death creates a contrast that makes this poem pretty interesting. Shmoop thinks so, anyway.