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Poetry - The Interrogation

Edwin Muir was a 20th century poet from the Orkney Islands. His early life was marked by tragedy when several members of his family, including his father and mother, died after being uprooted from rural life to move to Glasgow. This poem, 'The Interrogation', is dark and Kafkaesque in mood and was originally published in a collection entitled The Labyrinth.

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The Interrogation

We could have crossed the road but hesitated,
And then came the patrol;
The leader conscientious and intent,
The men surly, indifferent.
While we stood by and waited
The interrogation began. He says the whole
Must come out now, who, what we are,
Where we have come from, with what purpose, whose
Country or camp we plot for or betray.
Question on question.
We have stood and answered through the standing day
And watched across the road beyond the hedge
The careless lovers in pairs go by,
Hand linked in hand, wandering another star,
So near we could shout to them. We cannot choose
Answer or action here,
Though still the careless lovers saunter by
And the thoughtless field is near.
We are on the very edge,
Endurance almost done,
And still the interrogation is going on.

Edwin Muir
  1. What is taking place in this poem?
    The narrator and other people are being interrogated. 'Interrogation' implies questioning with a serious, suspicious, or even aggressive intent
  2. Who wishes to do his job well?
    The leader is 'conscientious and intent' - he is keen to do his duty
  3. When the patrol leader says 'the whole must come out now', he implies that he already knows what the people he is interrogating have done. Which words contradict this implied meaning?
    The leader does not seem to know, or care, which 'country or camp' the people belong to, or whether they are working for or against their country/camp
  4. 'The careless lovers in pairs go by, / Hand linked in hand, wandering another star, / So near we could shout to them.' This is an example of...
    The lovers are 'wandering another star' and 'so near we could shout to them' - this juxtaposition of ideas is embodied by the hedge, which creates a physical barrier while simultaneously emphasising how near the lovers are to the group being interrogated
  5. In the lines quoted in question four, what is the significance of the word 'could'?
    The narrator does not explain why he doesn't call out - what do you think the reason might be?
  6. Which word best describes the group under interrogation?
  7. Considering the answer to question six, which words reinforce this impression?
    These words are contrasted with 'wandering' and 'sauntering' (activity taken for granted by those who are free) , also 'action' and 'answer' (neither of which the interrogated group are able to do)
  8. What does the narrator see as the cause of this everlasting interrogation?
    'We could have crossed the road but hesitated'
  9. What might the narrator mean by 'we are on the very edge'?
    Poetry can inspire multiple interpretations. When analysing a poem, you do not have to have the same interpretation as other people, but you do have to be able to justify your view. It would be possible to argue, for example, that the 'thoughtless field' represents death
  10. Which of the following does NOT reinforce the sense of endurance?

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