The Idea Of Carpe Diem In As I Walked Out One Evening By W. H.auden
In the movie Dead Poets Society, Mr. Keating teaches his students to seize the day. While showing them a picture of some alumni on the walls of the academy, he draws them in close to hear their legacy, “carpe diem, seize the day.” The lesson being that time passes by quickly and all too soon life is over. Therefore, we should take advantage of every opportunity, every passing day, and each passing hour. This theme in the movie reminds me of a poem by W. H.Auden called, As I Walked Out One Evening. The poem illustrates that life is as ephemeral as it tells a story of lovers proclaiming their love has no ending. The lovers believe that nothing can conquer their love. But all the clocks who are listening to and watching the lovers start to “whirr and chime” and warn to not be fooled by Time. Here in the poem, Auden personifies time by giving it an uppercase “T”. Time reminds the lovers that “into many green a valley, drifts the appalling snow, Time breaks the threaded dances and the diver’s brilliant bow.” Time goes on to caution, ‘In the burrows of the Nightmare where Justice naked is, Time watches from the shadow and coughs when you would kiss.” Here Time becomes a stalker in the poem reminding the lovers and the readers that no matter how wonderful life is when we were are young, time, illness and death are waiting for us right around the corner. Time goes on to forewarn, ‘In headaches and in worry vaguely life leaks away, and Time will have his fancy, tomorrow or today. This suggests that not only will Time defeat us in the end, but it also will not even let us enjoy the short time we do have as the stresses and strains of everyday life will rob us of that. It reminds us that time is crafty and devious, and no matter how naive we may be when we are young, we will never escape death. In the end, Time will catch up to us and we will surely die. Time is brutal and continually presents us with this harsh reality of life, even as the lovers are enjoying themselves and living in the moment. Life is fleeting and full of regrets. As we get older, we may start to realize this fact as stated in the line, ‘O plunge your hands in water, plunge them in up to the wrist; Stare, stare in the basin and wonder what you’ve missed.’ What did we miss? That the universe is enormous and we are just a tiny, insignificant part of it. Life is complicated and confusing, and we will never make sense of it. Still, we accept it and go on. This idea of the confusion and the perplexity of life is seen in the lines that say, “And a 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.’
The meaning behind this poem is that nothing will last forever and so we should live every day to the fullest despite life’s complexity, hardships, and absurdities for one day, it will in fact end. This poem means a lot to me because of recent life events that taught me this lesson the hard way. For example, graduating high school I remember how I couldn’t wait for it to be over so I could start college, and now a year later, I miss it. I miss seeing my friends every day and wish I would have appreciated that more. I also recently lost both of my grandmothers within months of each other and wish I had spent more time with them and had taken the time to know them better. But time seriously did get in the way. All the nights I had too much homework and couldn’t just sit and enjoy their company and listen to their pearls of wisdom added up I suppose. Time cautions us to not leave important things undone, especially once the opportunity to act upon it is past. These missed opportunities and chances carry us to our graves.
Perhaps the most interesting part of Auden’s poem though, and the part I like the best are the following lines. ‘O look, look in the mirror, O look in your distress: Life remains a blessing, although you cannot bless.’ This stanza is about someone looking out the window and crying perhaps about being near the end of their life and their own missed opportunities. Or perhaps it was someone like Neil, who failed to see that life remained a blessing. Then the lines, “O stand, stand at the window, as the tears scald and start; you shall love your crooked neighbor, with your crooked heart.” These lines are telling us all we can do is love one another, even if those others are confused, dishonest or unkind, just as our own hearts are sometimes. Because in the end, we are all humans. Again, it was a shame that Neil and his father didn’t heed this message. The end of the poem confirms that Time was correct as the lovers and the love they had was no more, and even the clocks had stopped chiming. However, even though the lovers’ lives were over, time and life itself, the deep river, will run on endlessly. This is what Mr.Keating was trying to tell the boys. Carpe Diem, seize the day because soon we will be worm meat and we don’t want to be crying and staring out the window regretting missed opportunities. Life will go on, with or without you. Life is a gift, so make the best of it and live it your way.
Auden is saying the same thing. No matter what no one defeats time. It does not matter how much someone loves another, no matter how much money someone has, no matter what anyone does. Time will have the final say. That is why in life people must do what they want; not what their parents want, not what their friends want, not what their families or spouses desire. They have to choose for themselves to be truly happy, because as Auden demonstrates in the poem in the grand scheme of things, life is precious but oh, so short. Once it is squandered that time is irreplaceable. The scene in “Dead Poets Society” when Mr. Keating took the boys to the picture of the dead students and whispered, “Carpe Diem! Seize the day!” that spot on made me think of Auden’s poem because what Keating is telling the boys is that those students were just like them once. They also were young, hopeful, and on top of the world. Then time passed and withered the students. The young faces in the pictures are now skulls buried six feet under. And one day the young boys will be six feet under too. Mr. Keating teaches them to enjoy their lives and to follow their dreams because one day, all too soon, it will all be over and done.
This is easier said than done for sure, because as Auden shows us, Time is deceptive. It makes us think we have forever, and it causes us to forget to live each moment fully as we get caught up in our “headaches and worries”. It’s no wonder time is often seen as our enemy. I hope when I die I will be surrounded by my kids, maybe grandkids, and my family and friends. I hope I will have the presence of mind to look back on it and be happy with all the memories I have shared with them. I hope I will have little regret of opportunities missed. The bottom line is, seize the day, be true to self, and believe in yourself. Follow your dreams for this is the day. No matter the situation, remember “Carpe Diem! Seize the day!” I have always loved this poem by Auden and believe college students should read as it serves as a reminder to do make hay while the sun shines.
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