Thursday, January 20, 2011

Off the Shelf Archive - January #2

It's once again time to refresh the Off the Shelf selection before the month of January swoops completely past, so W.H.Auden's excellent As I Walked Out One Evening is brought to the front to make room for a poem by the great Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. Neruda (born Ricardo Eliezer NeftalĂ­ Reyes Basoalto) won the Pulitzer Prize for literature in 1971, and  wrote in a wide range of forms and styles, from erotica to surrealism, from the short and direct to the book length and epic.

While Neruda's love poetry is unequaled, I've chosen Cat's Dream, as a poem that shows all of his gifts for image and illuminated language and is less commonly seen. It's always hard to believe reading Neruda that you're reading a translation; his words seem to be able to transcend those limitations.

As always, feel free to comment on either poem here, as comments are disabled off the main page, and also as always, suggestions for next time are welcome. I have only one rule(or only one I've made up so far, anyway,) and that's no repeats of the same poet within a year.(This keeps me from posting nothing but Wallace Stevens or Octavio Paz or whatever.) Previous Off the Shelf selections can be found here or by clicking the tag in the sidebar labeled Off the Shelf Archive.

 So without any more preamble, here's a last look at Auden's As I Walked Out One Evening:

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 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 whir 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
     Tomorrow or today.

“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 at 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 teacup opens
     A line 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 neighbor
     With all your crooked heart.”

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

W. H. Auden      1940

Photo: courtesy google image search


  1. The perfect love poem I believe is intertwined with reality. A love that is deep and dear makes the loss more profound. yet the lover's song will ring on and on.

    thanks for sharing

  2. Damn gloomy poets.

    Why can't they write about something happy, like bunnies or unicorns?

    Okay okay. I hadn't ever read this, as far as can recall, and I liked it much when you first put it up on Off The Shelf. Thanks for the introduction, fair Witch.

  3. I like the salmon singing in the streets turning into the glacier knocking in the cupboard, myself.

    But I'm just a broody Nordic type.

  4. What really can be said of a poem that is brilliant except that. It's wonderful and good of you to share it... a little early duende, circa 1940-- we perhaps weren't around then but good that Auden was. Hope you got my message re your amazing crab songs. xxxj

  5. I recognize the era but had done little reading of Auden. This piece I see a woman standing at her window middle aged and alone remembering in the clocks sounds what had been promised to her by her lover. Everything that had been said to her to make her feel his love, feel alive.

    She remembers as she looks out that window and remembers. Not with sadness that her love has passed on but rather that she hasn't yet because she still finds his love in the memory.

    I would suggest Richard Brautigan. To me he was the most influential writer in bridging poetry away from the Beats to the 1960's and 70's.

  6. I hadn't read this before, and I truly love it.

  7. This takes melancholy to a whole new level...but the flow and the rhythm and the sentiments are ones anyone who has loved and lost can identify with (and perhaps wallow in, too).

  8. To me it's a poem about the fragility of human dreams and plans compared to larger and darker forces that we can't control, and that, as the old saw goes, our beginnings do not our endings know...

    Brautigan it is for next time, twm. I have In Watermelon Sugar staring at me from the shelf. I'll revisit and see what I can find.

  9. nice...i relly enjoyed has only be about 18 months that i have been writing/reading poetry so finding more and more to read and study...

  10. I used to have about nine books by Richard Brautigan. It would be fun to read some of him again.

  11. I really enjoyed coming across this post today. The poet looked at the world without his rose tinted spectacles on, but made a pretty poem nonetheless! Thanks for sharing...

  12. Another melancholy poem by Auden about the transcience of love can be found HERE, memorably used in the film "Four Weddings and a Funeral"
    Thanks for posting this one . . .

  13. @DoctorFTSE: Thanks for the link. I hadn't read that one in many years.

  14. This is a beautiful love poem.. truly as abstract as love is


"We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, out of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry." ~William Butler Yeats