If I Could Tell You

If I Could Tell You

By W. H. Auden

Time will say nothing but I told you so,
Time only knows the price we have to pay;
If I could tell you I would let you know.

If we should weep when clowns put on their show,
If we should stumble when musicians play,
Time will say nothing but I told you so.

There are no fortunes to be told, although,
Because I love you more than I can say,
If I could tell you I would let you know.

The winds must come from somewhere when they blow,
There must be reasons why the leaves decay;
Time will say nothing but I told you so.

Perhaps the roses really want to grow,
The vision seriously intends to stay;
If I could tell you I would let you know.

Suppose all the lions get up and go,
And all the brooks and soldiers run away;
Will Time say nothing but I told you so?
If I could tell you I would let you know.

Summary of If I Could Tell You

  • Popularity of “If I Could Tell You”: “If I Could Tell You” by Wystan Hugh Auden, a great American poet, and writer, is a paradoxical poem. Published in 1940, the poem presents a series of statements about time. It offers the speaker’s thoughts about the nature of the world. The poet explains the limitations of mankind as people are unable to foresee what waits for them in the future. However, the popularity of the poem lies in the speaker’s distinct approach toward time and its impacts on human life.
  • “If I Could Tell You” As a Representative of Time Phenomenon: The poem opens up with the poet talking about the time that marks our present, past, and future. He sees time as the greatest teacher of humanity as it teaches us new lessons and makes us acknowledge our faults. However, we need a lot of time to understand the phenomenon of life. In contrast, the speaker claims to inform us of everything before reaching the level of actual realization. Throughout the poem, he explains that we cannot see the future and are unable to realize the whims of time. Surprisingly, he finds the same symmetry in the natural world; the powerful autumn imagery signals the end and decay of life. Unlike people, natural objects may also wish to survive, but they are bound to follow the cyclical order. Also, the representation of carnival imagery toward the end of the poem signals the uncertain happenings we face with time. Therefore, he thinks we should enjoy life instead of getting confused with time.
  • Major Themes in “If I Could Tell You”: The transience of life, time as a powerful force, and knowledge are the major themes of the poem. Throughout the poem, the speaker tries to explain that we are bound to follow the natural order. There is time for birth and decay. The poem seems to be about an unpredictable future with a particular focus on the uncertainties of life. To him, time plays a crucial role in life; it guides us, instructs us, and teaches us the worth of life. Also, he comments on man’s nature that we desire to know things beyond our comprehension. Unfortunately, by doing so, we forget to embrace the blessings we have in life. Through this simple text, the speaker makes us understand the value of life and, most importantly the value of time.

Analysis of Literary Devices Used in “If I Could Tell You”

literary devices are tools that allow the writers to make their intended meanings clear to the audience. W. H Auden has also used some literary devices in the poem to make it appealing. The analysis of the devices used in this poem has been given below.

  1. Assonance: Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in the same line such as the sound of /i/ and /o/ in “The vision seriously intends to stay” and the sound of /o/ in “There are no fortunes to be told, although.”
  2. Alliteration: Alliteration is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line such as the sound of /r/ in “roses really want” and /w/ sound in “weep when.”
  3. Consonance: Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line such as the sound of /m/ in “The winds must come from somewhere when they blow,” and the sound of /r/ in “Perhaps the roses really want to grow.”
  4. Irony: Irony is a figure of speech in which words are used in such a way that their intended meaning is different from the actual meaning. The writer has used this device in the opening stanza of the poem while talking about the things time has washed away but he remembers such as;

“Time will say nothing but I told you so,
Time only knows the price we have to pay.”

  1. Imagery: Imagery is used to make readers perceive things involving their five senses. W. H. Auden has used imagery in this poem such as “Perhaps the roses really want to grow”, “Suppose all the lions get up and go” and “And all the brooks and soldiers run away.”
  2. Rhetorical Question: The poem shows the use of rhetorical question that is posed not to elicit some answer but to stress upon the idea such as;

And all the brooks and soldiers run away;
Will Time say nothing but I told you so?

  1. Metaphor: It is a figure of speech in which an implied comparison is made between the objects that are different. The poem shows the use of extended metaphors of time, imagination, and realization.

Analysis of Poetic Devices Used in “If I Could Tell You”

Poetic and literary devices are the same, but a few are used only in poetry. Here is the analysis of some of the poetic devices used in this poem.

  1. Diction: The poem shows descriptive diction having metaphors, symbolism, and hyperbole.
  2. Rhyme Scheme: The poem follows an ABA rhyme scheme and this pattern continues until the last stanza which shows the rhyme scheme of ABAC.
  3. Repetition: There is a repetition of the verse “If I could tell you I would let you know” which has created a musical quality in the poem.
  4. Refrain: The lines occurring repeatedly at some distance in a poem is called a refrain. The verse “If I could tell you I would let you know” is, therefore, a refrain.
  5. Stanza: A stanza is a poetic form of some lines. There are six stanzas in this poem with each comprising a different number of verses.

Quotes to be Used

These lines are useful while talking about the realities of life during a motivational session.

“Time will say nothing but I told you so,
Time only knows the price we have to pay;
If I could tell you I would let you know.”