Study Guide

As I Walked Out One Evening Lines 25-36

By W.H. Auden

Lines 25-36

Lines 25-28

'In the burrows of the Nightmare
   Where Justice naked is;
Time watches from the shadow
   And coughs when you would kiss.

  • Things take a dark turn here. These clocks are kind of gloomy guys.
  • The stanza starts out, "In the burrows of the Nightmare." It sounds like some kind of underground dwelling where nightmares live. Shmoop doesn't want to visit. Probably very damp, dark, and musty.
  • Nightmare and Justice are capitalized, making these inanimate things feel like characters in the poem. We end up with Justice and Time hanging out over at Nightmare's stinky underground pad.
  • Shmoop knows what you're thinking. "Hey Justice. Put on some clothes!" But Justice is baring it all for a reason. Nothing is hidden. Everyone will know what's up and will be treated the same. What you see is what you get and it's the same for everyone. We know Justice doesn't have something up her sleeves, because she doesn't have any. Time and Justice kind of go together. Time might be cruel, but it is fair. It treats everyone the same. 
  • And Time is watching from the shadows. He's watching those lovers who think they're immune to the passing of time. He knows he can turn those kisses into wheezing coughs. Time knows he has the stuff that will conquer even the strongest love: Death.

Lines 29-32

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

  • The clocks keep droning on, and they aren't changing their tune. Things stay pretty gloomy.
  • Time wears us down. With life's daily hardships as his tool (headaches and worry), little by little Time chips away at us until he gets his way (his fancy). Sooner or later, the wheat gets harvested—we die. Bummer? You bet. The clock-speaker isn't going to sugarcoat things for us.
  • Yes, things are getting progressively gloomier. This might be a good time to take a break and watch a funny cat video or two.

Lines 33-36

'Into many a green valley
   Drifts the appalling snow;
Time breaks the threaded dances
   And the diver's brilliant bow.

  • This stanza begins nicely enough. Who doesn't like a green valley? It's a place that's lush and full of life. Kind of like our lovers in a way—blossoming like The Flower of the Ages.
  • And now there's snow. Appalling.
  • We had a nice, warm, vibrant valley, and now we have a blanket of chilling snow choking out (killing) all that nice greenery we were trying to enjoy. And who do you think is responsible? What does this chilling blanket of snow represent? Yup, our old pal Time. 
  • Just in case you weren't sure Time was at fault, our other buddy, ol' clock-speaker, names names. He tells us Time is responsible: "Time breaks the threaded dances / And the diver's brilliant bow." Wait. What? What's this threaded dance thing?
  • Is it that one move Beyonce did at the Super Bowl?
  • Actually, threaded dance probably refers to traditional dances like the Maypole Dance. These dances usually represent the coming of Spring and all that rebirth and fertility stuff that goes along with it. Time wrecks that, too. 
  • We still have that diver's brilliant bow to deal with. If you've ever watched a good diver, especially one using a diving board, you might have noticed the way they go up into the air and then, just as they bow their bodies and head down into the drink, it looks like they pause in mid-air. It is almost like, for just a split-second, they break free from gravity, they escape its force (kind of like our lovers think they are going to escape Time)—but they don't, and gravity pulls them down, breaking their "brilliant bow." Time is in cahoots with gravity here. Time let's you break free for a few moments, but that's all and then gravity gets to have her way.

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