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.

w.h. auden


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