Study Guide

As I Walked Out One Evening Love

By W.H. Auden

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And down by the brimming river
   I heard a lover sing
Under an arch of the railway:
   'Love has no ending. (5-8)

Our lover-speaker makes his position clear from the start: Love conquers Time. This seems like a pretty optimistic, romantic stanza at first glance. We've got lovers under a bridge singing the praises of Love's power. There's a river nearby and all seems right with the world… or is it?

Upon closer inspection, the rhyme between sing and ending seems a little ominous. The singing is the lover's voice. By rhyming sing with ending, we get the sense that the voice, the song, will end. Not only do the two words rhyme, but that shared ing makes them look pretty similar too. Or, if you cut off that S, the word sing just becomes a part of the word ending. Bummer. And we haven't even discussed the fact that all this talk of Love's power is taking place next to a river—a classic symbol of Time's movement. And this river is "brimming," like it's about to spill over the banks and swallow up those happy lovers. The stanza is all about love having no ending, and yet the stanza ends with the word ending. Enough said.

'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,

'I'll love you till the ocean
   Is folded and hung up to dry
And the seven stars go squawking
   Like geese about the sky. (9-16)

The lover declares his love. Really. A lot. Shmoop gets it. This guy wants to get the point across that the love he feels knows no bounds—especially not the boundaries of reality or logic. With rivers jumping and salmon singing and stars squawking, it seems like this guy is saying his love will last until nature stops acting like nature, which would have to happen for his love to endure. The fact is, Time conquers all. The only way for his love to be eternal, to conquer Time, is to toss out the laws of nature. Time and the inevitable end are behind every aspect of the natural world.

'The years shall run like rabbits,
   For in my arms I hold
The Flower of the Ages,
   And the first love of the world.' (17-20)

With his lover in his arms, Time doesn't bother the lover-speaker. "The years," Time, is like a bunch of scared bunnies, scampering away. Not a very powerful simile to use for all-powerful Time. But our lovers really feel like they have something special here. They believe the world has never seen a love like theirs, that theirs is the world's first true love. So, apparently, the rules of Time just don't apply to them. Spoiler alert: they're wrong.

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