Poem Analysis “The Underground” – Seamus Heaney
There we were in the vaulted tunnel running,
You in your going-away coat speeding ahead
And me, me then like a fleet god gaining
Upon you before you turned to a reed
Or some new white flower japped with crimson
As the coat flapped wild and button after button
Sprang off and fell in a trail
Between the Underground and the Albert Hall.
Honeymooning, moonlighting, late for the Proms,
Our echoes die in that corridor and now
I come as Hansel came on the moonlit stones
Retracing the path back, lifting the buttons
To end up in a draughty lamplit station
After the trains have gone, the wet track
Bared and tensed as I am, all attention
For your step following and damned if I look back.
[Heaney imagines himself as a modern Orpheus. Orpheus, in Greek myth, was a god of music whose young wife was bitten by a snake. When she died, he went to the Underworld to get her back, but Hades, god of the Underworld, said if he looked back, she would die. You can guess what happened. Hansel comes from Hansel and Gretel, one of Grimm’s tales. Hansel dropped pebbles on the ground, or in some versions, breadcrumbs, to find his way home. Oddly, I had never connected Hansel and Gretel with the Orpheus myth until I read this poem, but the connection is there.
Notice how concise the poem is and how Heaney captures many ideas succinctly. You do not realize what stage this couple is in until you see the word “honeymooning.” He uses this one word rather than creating an elaborate anecdote about how he met his wife and got married. He establishes setting too in amazing way by referring to “the Proms,” and “Albert Hall,” which tells us that this poem takes place at London’s Royal Albert Hall, at the Proms, an annual concert held in late summer.
Japped is a rather obscure word meaning “spattered.”]