Study Guide

As I Walked Out One Evening Time

By W.H. Auden

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But all the clocks in the city
   Began to whirr and chime:
'O let not Time deceive you,
   You cannot conquer Time. (21-24)

Well, there it is. You can't beat Time. We might on occasion get the sense that Time stands still or that we are immune to the passing of Time (perhaps during periods of intense emotion or distraction, like, well, being in love), but in reality, Time is always ticking away. This idea is reflected in line 24's meter. Those strong, regular iambs mirror the ticking of the clock: You cannot conquer Time. tick TOCK tick TOCK tick TOCK. The final TOCK even falls on the word Time.

Time watches from the shadow
   And coughs when you would kiss. (27-28)

Time seems really sinister in these lines. It's watching "from the shadows" like some kind of predator lurking in the dark and waiting to pounce. Spooky. We can also see Time's dominance over Love in these lines. We want to keep love alive forever. But Time turns even the most basic expression of Love, the kiss, into something that indicates sickness and even death, a cough. See. We told you Time was sinister.

'In headaches and in worry
   Vaguely life leaks away,
And Time will have his fancy
   To-morrow or to-day. (29-32)

More bad news. Life is leaking away. That can't be good. Little by little we get closer to the state that Time wants, what Time fancies: death. Sooner or later, it's where we all end up. This Time guy is totally not our friend. Come to think of it that rhyme between away (as in life leaks away) and to-day makes it seem like death is coming sooner rather than later. Gulp.

It was late, late in the evening,
   The lovers they were gone;
The clocks had ceased their chiming,
   And the deep river ran on. (57-60)

It seems fitting that this poem begins and ends with a river since that river represents Time and that's what this poem is all about. Here in the last four lines, the lovers are gone and even the clocks are silenced. So, Time has outlasted Love. We kind of saw that one coming. Time has even outlasted the clocks. We are left with the sense that Time really is eternal. Even after there is no one left on the planet to track time in minutes and hours, Time will keep on keepin' on just like that "deep river" that runs on even as the poem itself comes to an end.

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