Fear of Indulgence in Field’s Underneath the Bough

I was drawn to the section of stanzas on page 18 of Michael Field’s Underneath the Bough, starting with the lines “Through hazels and apples”.  These stanzas describe the speaker and their love traveling through a garden in the morning.  It closely followed ideas described in the background article for Underneath the Bough.  In that article, Robert Fletcher describes this work as having different and simultaneous accounts of desire; Michael Field’s work seems to have “‘a desire to tell and not to tell…’” (114).  In these stanzas, the speaker describes the act of eating apples, but also simultaneously describes themselves as being “Unfed that day” (Field 19).  They seem to declare something, but also rescind these statements two stanzas later.  This connects to the end of the second stanza from this grouping.  Here Field states, “By one rare rose: / Did we smell at the heart, / And then depart?” (19).  The speaker and the lover seem to indulge themselves in the garden, but then immediately flee.  Additionally, each stanza ends in a question mark, as if to say that the speaker is questioning their actions or questioning the truth of the interactions between the two of them.  The speaker desires to describe the morning interactions but doesn’t completely commit to them as absolute truths.

On the surface, these stanzas seem to describe a morning outing between two lovers, but it also has deep sexual implications and innuendos.  Eating the fruit in this garden seems to signify a passionate sexual encounter between the speaker and their love.  However, the speaker has eaten in the first stanza but seems to end the third stanza feeling unfed or unsatisfied.  Reading these stanzas in a sexual lens perhaps offers the question of whether the circumstances of this erotic relationship, forced to take place “back by the alley”, is satisfying and fulfilling for the speaker (Field 19).  They soon depart this setting after three short stanzas, but it seems that the speaker wishes to live in a place of “roses and apples”, since the third stanza ends with the speaker grappling with their own personal circumstances.  These three stanzas can certainly connect with the rest of the work as well, since Field frequently uses sexual innuendo to make this romantic relationship more tangible.  Frequently throughout this work, erotic relations, such as the one described in these stanzas, are regarded as equal, if not more important, than any verbal expression of love.

One thought on “Fear of Indulgence in Field’s Underneath the Bough”

  1. The connections you make regarding the contradiction between eating and not being fed are really insightful. Through an erotic lens, I think that this could also point to engaging in sex but not reaching orgasm. Also, when you wrote “the speaker and the lover seem to indulge themselves in the garden, but then immediately flee”, I wondered what the implications would be if this was connected to the Garden of Eden in the bible. Maybe the lovers thought that they could engage as Adam and Eve had in the garden… then, why would they feel the need to run away? Why are they afraid to indulge? There are so many avenues to choose from here. Good job!

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