In the poem "The Interrogation" by Edwin Muir, the narrator is one of a group of people stopped by a patrol and then interrogated. Who the people in the questioned group are is not explained, and neither is it explained why the patrol stops them. The patrol could be a government patrol or a civilian militia, and the people who are stopped could be oppressed minorities, people of low social class, or possibly people attempting to enter a country or area illegally. Although Muir wrote his poetry in the early and mid-twentieth century, we can picture the poem being relevant to this modern era in the United States, when patrolling of the southern border areas and the detention of illegal immigrants has attained such political significance.
The tone of the poem is dark, somber, and even paranoid. Edwin Muir was the person who first translated Franz Kafka's works into English, and we can perceive shadows of Kafka's dark, despairing tone in the isolated setting, the lack of identifying details, and the very real threat to the interrogated group.
At the beginning of the poem, the group might have crossed the road, but they hesitate. It is possible that this hesitation is their downfall. The road seems to represent the borderline to freedom. The patrol arrives, and right away we perceive it as a threat to the group. The leader is "conscientious and intent," and the men are "surly" and "indifferent." We can picture a group of men supposedly just doing their job but willing to inflict violence on the captured group if they misbehave. The frightening tone has already been established.
The leader begins the interrogation and wants to know everything, such as "who, what we are, where we have come from, with what purpose, whose country or camp we plot for or betray." The tone becomes even darker and more intense as we realize that the interrogator has already presumed guilt. He obviously doesn't want mere explanations; he wants confessions.
Muir then contrasts the people who have been stopped and interrogated with other people "across the road beyond the hedge" who are going about their day in peace and safety. They are "careless lovers in pairs," and they are so different from the poor miserable people who have been stopped and interrogated that the narrator says they are "wandering another star." This contrast further darkens the tone of the poem, as we realize that there are people nearby living normal lives, while the arrested group is "on the very edge, endurance almost done, and still the interrogation is going on."