The Immortality of a Poem

What makes a poem memorable or forgettable may hinge on just a few words: distinctive, innovative, or vivid on one hand; trite, cliched, and flat on the other. But what makes a poem immortal – or fleeting – cannot be defined by simple or narrow poetic variables. Just as one cannot qualify a poem of fleeting insignificance with a yawn, a poem with an invisible tag of immortality cannot be described without delving deeply into its symbolism and imagery, whether one or the other, or both, is present within its text.

With this kind of probe in mind, “As I Walked Out One Evening,” a poem with love / time as its over-all theme, is hereby placed on the spot for a quick, critical look. The initial stanza’s first two lines set a mood, the time of day and specific place: “As I walked out one evening / Walking down Bristol Street. ” But the next two lines, “The crowds upon the pavement / Were fields of harvest wheat,” stir the reader’s senses, a stirring that intensifies upon reading the next stanza, and the next, until the final one.

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This poem is rich with metaphor (shown in the first stanza, last line), simile (“Like geese about the sky,” “The years shall run like rabbits”), and even hyperbole (Till China and Africa meet / And the river jumps over the mountain / And the salmon sing in the street). But these literary techniques, while contributing greatly to “As I Walked Out One Evening” as a truly memorable piece, pale in comparison with the images found in it. Consider these lines: “Into many a green valley / Drifts the appalling snow,” “And the crack in the tea-cup opens / A lane to the land of the dead, “ or “Where the beggars raffle the banknotes.

” The effect of those lines is clearly not exclusive to just forming mental visions, it also rouses the feelings or more, because “an image in poetry…is not simply visual… it must engage at least one of the senses…” (Conrey, Oct. 2, 2006) But what sets apart this remarkable poem from all the others, aside from its stunningly effective imagery, is the symbolism that has been “established and supported by the entire context of the story” (Reuben, Feb. 4, 2008).

As the lover professes that his or her love is timeless, “all the clocks in the city began to whirr and chime” and then chided the lovers that Time is unconquerable and that they cannot stop the power of Time from unleashing the “headache,” “worry,” “appalling snow,” and cracked teacup splitting that will “break[s] the threaded dances” of the lovers. Time, mentioned five times in the poem, symbolizes truth’s reality which is not unlike pouring ice-cold water into an impassioned declaration of love, perhaps intentional on the part of the poet.

No doubt, the imagery in this poem gets seared into the mind, or put in a clearer way, “the moment is frozen… and given to the reader every time they read the image” (Conrey, Oct. 2, 2006). However, it is the symbol, or Time, that will remain, true and unchanged, in the hearts of the readers, not just frozen in time like an image as it is being read, but long after the poem has been read. Which is why this poem is not just memorable; it transcends even the term unforgettable. “As I Walked Out One Evening” is certifiably a work of art that will live on forever.


Conrey, Sean, M. “Images and Their Uses. What is an Image? ” Oct. 2, 2006. The Writing Lab & The Owl at Purdue and Purdue University. 1995-2008. Accessed July 27, 2008 <http://owl. english. purdue. edu/owl/resource/617/02/> Reuben, Paul P. “PAL: Appendix H: Elements of Drama. ” Feb. 4, 2008. PAL: Perspectives in American Literature- A Research and Reference Guide. July 2, 1995. Accessed July 27, 2008 <URL:http://www. csustan. edu/english/reuben/pal/append/axh. html>


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