Auden lived in Greenwich Village, but like everything the village had changed when I went and all the writers had shipped to Brooklyn. I forgot how many here still linked to that generation, one removed from mine, think Auden was a scoundrel because he left for America on the eve of European war, and his face turned into a version of a very well lived in poodle, but Some Like it Hot and nobody’s perfect. His famous younger man’s take ‘love one another or die’ he later changed to ‘love one another and die’ though, to express a certain harder faced reality. He may have underestimated the importance of why perhaps myths are created and repeated, raised above the level of ordinary storytelling to become universal guides and warnings. Carl Jung, when he had walked beyond his own understanding sat down to play again, and rediscover his personal myth. Oh dear, don’t drift into the appalling snow, and ‘love’, such a simple thing, is just the good door to a well lived life and to equally vital sources of happiness – making things happen – money, success, friendship, creativity, meaning and being useful. As for Auden he could be very bleak, not a person remaking the world, but he was a phenomenal poet.
As I Walked Out One Evening
by W. H. Auden
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.