Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Life Explained, Part Seventeen: "And Still The Interrogation Is Going On"

The following poem by Edwin Muir (1887-1959) has its origin in an incident that took place in post-World War II Czechoslovakia.  At the time, Muir was serving as the director of the British Council in Prague.  In much of his poetry, Muir portrayed life as having an underlying mythic timelessness about it.  Thus, this poem seems to suggest more than a simple encounter with border guards.

                           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, The Labyrinth (1949).

                              Tristram Hillier, "Barns in Winter" (1943)

4 comments:

Nana Fredua-Agyeman said...

Simple yet deep. I enjoy your picks.

Occasional Review said...

Thanks for highlighting another fine poet. I remember leafing through a selection of Muir in a bookstore -- I landed on "The Horses" and then "Reading in Wartime" and knew I had come across the real thing. I think his Autobiography is wonderful too (I've written a bit about it) and should really be back in print.

Thanks as always,
Akshay

Stephen Pentz said...

Thank you for visiting again, Mr. Fredua-Agyeman. I agree with your thoughts on the poem: it appears to be an almost matter-of-fact account of the incident, but, as you say, it is much deeper than that.

Stephen Pentz said...

Akshay: thank you for stopping by again, and for the link to your excellent piece on Muir and George Dennison (who I hadn't heard of before). I know that Graywolf Press republished An Autobiography and The Estate of Poetry (another fine book by Muir) in the early 1990s, which was gratifying to see. But it is unfortunate to see books such as Muir's go out of print.