We here at the Nass are great lovers of literature and, if we do say so ourselves, the latest in a long line of great participators in the epic, Wilsonian tradition of the precept. We love few things more than a lively precept involving a close, thoughtful reading of a poem and an exhilarating discussion of poetic technique. (Editor’s Note: things we love more include: money, new computers for our office, and being taken up in the arms of a new and promising lover, a lover with lots of money and new computers for our office.) But sometimes we – like a smattering of our classmates – get a little sick of finding echoes of the Bible, Dante, and Shakespeare in everything we read. Because, quite honestly, we prefer it when the poems we read remind us of…ourselves. We scoff at such things as, say, offering a logical basis for our readings of certain poems, passages and paeans. Let’s focus on how they make us FEEL. Let’s do some free-association, man.
And so, without further ado, the Nassau Weekly editors would like to unveil our first feelings-based explication of a work of poetic genius. Our offering this week is based on:
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.
Harvest Wheat. Yeah man. Harvest Wheat. So what I’m thinking about in these first lines are…I’m feeling like…when I was a kid in Iowa and my dad used to take me out on a tractor and we would harvest the wheat together and then this one time, he told me how he always felt like he was supposed to be missing his right arm and so he stuck it in the wheat harvester and then he was bleeding everywhere and it just really reminds me of violence and loss.
And down by the brimming river
I heard a lover sing
Under an arch of the railway:
‘Love has no ending.
I took a train once. Yeah. There were these two people making out. They were fat, man. But they were making out. Yeah.
‘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,
Dinosaurs. Pangea. Like, all those continents, you know. When like, Africa and China and Europe and stuff were all together. That’s how the Neanderthals hunted the same rabbits on all eight continents.
‘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.’
See man, that’s what I said. I knew I was feeling the rabbits. They’re like hunted, man, hunted. I know how it is. I feel like a rabbit sometime. I didn’t return this library book and now they’re sending me all those emails and I just feel so violated.
But all the clocks in the city
Began to whirr and chime:
‘O let not Time deceive you,
You cannot conquer Time.
I mean, I totally feel this. ’Cause, you know, sometimes you just run out of time?
‘In the burrows of the Nightmare
Where Justice naked is,
Time watches from the shadow
And coughs when you would kiss.
I know how this is man. I was taking this girl out, ya know. We were at the movies and I was trying to get my swerve on and, like, there was this guy behind us man and he was old, man, old and I everytime – I was just trying to get some man, just trying to get some – and he just kept on hacking up on us. Hey, speaking of swerve, wasn’t Auden, like, gay or something?
‘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.
Green Valley. I’m thinking Ireland….wait? It’s not about Ireland? Are you sure? Well, I thought this dude was Catholic and, like, Ireland, they’re all Catholic, right?
‘O plunge your hands in water,
Plunge them in up to the wrist;
Stare, stare in the basin
And wonder what you’ve missed.
I don’t get this. I’m getting something morbid, though. Like, is he afraid of washing his hands? Cause, when I was little, I didn’t wash my hands. My mom was always saying: “wash your hands.” But I didn’t want to.
‘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.
So I was with this lady. And she wouldn’t give it up and it was such a dry spell in my bed, man. It was like a desert. So I’m feeling that.
‘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.
See that’s what I’m saying, ya know? This girl, she just wouldn’t go down.
‘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.’
I get it. Because, you know, the tears, they’re like, burning. I feel that. If you’ve got a crooked heart, that’s like heart disease man and, that, that’s something to cry about.
It was late, late in the evening,
The lovers they were gone;
The clocks had ceased their chiming,
And the deep river ran on.
The river. Like, still water runs deep, man. I feel that. And I’m liking how it, like, goes back to the beginning, you know? Sort of?
We hope that this helped you get in touch with your feelings. And your love of poetry. Try it in precept some time. We guarantee it will be a winner with your professor, your classmates, and, most importantly, yourself.