W. H. Auden (1907-1973)

As I Walked Out One Evening

As I walked out one evening,
     Walking down Bristol Street,
The crowds upon the pavement
     Were fields of harvest wheat.

And down by the brimming river
     I heard a lover sing
Under an arch of the railway:
     ‘Love has no ending.

‘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.

‘The years shall run like rabbits,
     For in my arms I hold
The Flower of the Ages,
     And the first love of the world.’

But all the clocks in the city
     Began to whirr and chime:
‘O let not Time deceive you,
     You cannot conquer Time.

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

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

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

‘O plunge your hands in water,
     Plunge them in up to the wrist;
Stare, stare in the basin
     And wonder what you’ve missed.

‘The glacier knocks in the cupboard,
     The desert sighs in the bed,
And the crack in the tea-cup opens
     A lane to the land of the dead.

‘Where the beggars raffle the banknotes
     And the Giant is enchanting to Jack,
And the Lily-white Boy is a Roarer,
     And Jill goes down on her back.

‘O look, look in the mirror,
     O look in your distress:
Life remains a blessing
     Although you cannot bless.

‘O stand, stand at the window
     As the tears scald and start;
You shall love your crooked neighbour
     With your crooked heart.’

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


Epitaph for an Unknown Soldier

To save your world you asked this man to die;
Would this man, could he see you now, ask why?