“Under Ground” Poem by James Reeves: Explanation, Summary & Poetic Devices

The poem “Underground” by James Reeves takes us on a journey into the hidden world beneath our feet. Through vivid imagery, metaphors, and personification, he invites us to imagine the lives and activities of creatures living in the darkness, while also hinting at the deeper mysteries and secrets that lie buried within the earth. The poem ends with a sense of wonder and curiosity, encouraging us to appreciate the unseen and unexplored aspects of our world.

Under Ground Poem by James Reeves


The poem “Underground” by James Reeves explores the hidden world beneath the Earth’s surface. Divided into five stanzas, the poet vividly describes the subterranean realm, where creatures like rabbits and moles explore in the darkness. Ants are portrayed as industrious builders of underground empires, raising questions about whether they notice the presence of humans walking overhead. Some creatures find solace in sleep beneath the soil, occasionally disrupted by human tools. The poem delves into the interconnectedness of life and death, with tree roots reaching into the country of the dead and rocks resembling the earth’s gigantic bones. The overall tone is one of marvel and wonder, inviting readers to contemplate the mysteries that lie hidden in the dark kingdom underground.

Stanza Wise Explanation

Let’s break down the poem “Underground” by James Reeves stanza-wise, both in literal and literary terms:

Stanza 1:


  • deep kingdom under ground: describes the vast and hidden world beneath the earth’s surface.
  • little sound: emphasizes the quietness and stillness of the underground.
  • earth’s green floor: refers to the grassy surface of the earth above.
  • explore: burrow and discover
  • mole: a small burrowing mammal.
  • rabbit and mole explore: personifies these creatures as adventurers and discoverers in their subterranean realm.


  • This stanza describes the underground world where it is dark and quiet. The poet mentions the rabbit and the mole as creatures that explore beneath the earth’s surface.

This stanza introduces the poem’s central theme: the existence of a secret, vibrant world beneath the seemingly familiar ground. Despite the lack of light and sound, the earth is bustling with activity, as hinted by the exploring rabbits and moles.

The imagery is dark and hushed creating a sense of mystery and intrigue. The “deep kingdom under ground” can be seen as a metaphor for the mysterious and hidden aspects of life. The creatures exploring symbolize the hidden activities and life beneath the surface.

The use of “kingdom” elevates the importance of this underground world, suggesting it’s a vibrant ecosystem with its own inhabitants and activities.

The “earth’s green floor” acts as a boundary between two worlds, the familiar above and the unfamiliar below.

Personification of the rabbit and mole suggests a bustling life hidden from view.

The rabbit and mole, with their subterranean journeys, symbolize our own curiosity about the unknown and our desire to explore hidden depths.

Poetic Devices:

  • Imagery: “deep kingdom,” “earth’s green floor,” “rabbit and mole” create vivid images of the underground.
  • Metaphor: “deep kingdom” compares the underground to a hidden and mysterious land.
  • Personification: Animals like rabbits and moles are given the human action of exploring, suggesting a hidden life below the surface.
  • Juxtaposition: The juxtaposition of the green, vibrant world above with the dark, silent one below highlights the hidden complexity of nature.
  • Alliteration: Repetition of “l” sounds (“light and little”) creates a sense of depth and darkness.
  • Enjambment: The poet uses enjambment, where a line of poetry does not end with punctuation but continues into the next line.

Stanza 2:


  • quarrying: refers to the ants’ activity of digging and collecting materials.
  • populous empires: suggests the ants’ large and thriving community.
  • tread: the sound made by footsteps.
  • my tread: poet’s footstep on the ground above.


  • The stanza introduces ants that are busy building their colonies underground. The poet wonders if these ants can sense or hear the footsteps of humans passing overhead.

The focus shifts to ants, tirelessly working to build and expand their “populous empires.” The speaker wonders if they pause to hear or can sense the sound of footsteps above. The poet is here hinting at a possible connection between the two worlds or two layers of existence, by questioning their awareness of the world above.

The ants represent industriousness and communal living and their organized aspects of life.

The question about hearing footsteps adds a touch of whimsy human curiosity and awareness of the impact on the underground and unnoticed world. It suggests a possible connection between the underground world and the world above. It also raises questions about the perception and awareness of creatures living in different realms.

Poetic Devices:

  • Imagery: vividly describes the ants’ busy movements (“run to and fro”).
  • Hyperbole: “populous empires” exaggerates the ants’ colony size, emphasizing their industriousness.
  • Rhetorical question: “Do they…hear my tread?” invites the reader to consider the animals’ awareness of the world above. It introduces a touch of human perspective, wondering if the creatures below sense our presence above.
  • Personification: The ants are described as creating “populous empires,” attributing human-like qualities to them.

Stanza 3:


  • toil: work hard.
  • secure and warm: suggests comfort and safety in the underground.
  • beneath: below, under
  • fork or spade: tools used for digging and disrupting the soil.
  • intrudes: disrupts, disturbs.
  • earthy: belonging to the soil.
  • solitudes: peaceful and undisturbed places.


  • This stanza describes some creatures that sleep comfortably underground, and occasionally, human tools like forks or spades disturb their peaceful existence.

This stanza contrasts the active ants with creatures that “sleep and do not toil.” They find comfort and security in the warmth of the soil. However, their solitude can be disrupted by intrusive tools like forks and spades from the surface world. This stanza highlights the serenity of creatures resting deep within the earth while acknowledging the potential human disruption of their peaceful existence through digging and farming.

The sleeping creatures and the intrusion of human tools suggest a contrast between the natural and human worlds. The contrast between the peaceful sleep and the potential for disruption creates a sense of vulnerability for these underground creatures. The image of the fork or spade intruding on their solitude adds a touch of sadness and emphasizes the fragility of their peaceful existence.

The personification of the soil as “warm” and the earth as “solitudes” adds a touch of empathy and respect for their world.

Poetic Devices:

  • Metaphor: “fork or spade intrudes” compares human tools to unwelcome visitors disturbing the peaceful creatures.
  • Metaphor: “Earthy solitudes” emphasizes the quiet and undisturbed nature of the underground.
  • Contrast: Juxtaposes the creatures’ peaceful slumber with the potential for human intrusion.
  • Pathetic fallacy: Attributing human characteristics (“intrudes”) to inanimate objects like tools.
  • Alliteration: the repetition of “s” sounds (Some creatures sleep; “Sometimes a fork or spade intrudes”) evokes a sense of softness and quietude, highlighting the intrusion.

Stanza 4:


  • branching tree-roots: refers to the expansive network of roots growing downwards.
  • country of the dead: the underworld, where roots reach decomposed matter. Metaphor for the deep, dark, and unseen layers of the earth, possibly alluding to buried remains (metaphorical reference to the resting place of deceased organisms.).
  • gigantic bones: compares buried rocks and stones to the earth’s skeletal structure. Comparing buried rocks to bones emphasizes the earth’s age and vastness.
  • branching: spreading out in many directions


  • This stanza turns to the plant world. The speaker describes the “branching tree-roots” that spread downward, reaching into the “country of the dead,” which could represent the deep, dark earth or the realm of the deceased. Deep down, buried rocks and stones are compared to the “earth’s gigantic bones,” suggesting the ancient past and geological history hidden within the earth.

The focus moves downward, tracing the roots of trees as they delve into the “country of the dead,” the deeper layers of the earth. The buried rocks and stones are likened to the earth’s “gigantic bones,” conveying a sense of age and permanence.

The imagery becomes darker and more symbolic. The “country of the dead” carries connotations of mystery and decay, while the comparison of rocks to bones reinforces the earth’s connection to life and death.

The tree roots act as a bridge between the living world above and the hidden depths below. The tree roots and buried rocks can be seen as connections between the living and the deceased, symbolizing the continuity and interconnectedness of life and death.

Poetic Devices:

  • Metaphor: Tree roots are described as spreading into the “country of the dead,” suggesting a connection between the living and the deceased within the earth.
  • Metaphor: “Country of the dead” evokes a sense of mystery and the unknown.
  • Metaphor: Rocks and stones are compared to the earth’s bones, emphasizing its age and hidden strength.
  • Personification: Tree roots are described as “branching,” suggesting movement and life.
  • Simile: Comparing rocks and stones to bones adds a sense of age and permanence to the underground world.
  • Symbolism: Roots symbolize life reaching for sustenance even in the realm of death.
  • Alliteration: Repetetion of ‘d’ sound in “Deep down”

Stanza 5:


  • dark kingdom: the underground world devoid of sunlight.
  • marvellous things are found: highlights the wonders and secrets hidden beneath the surface.


  • The final stanza expresses a sense of wonder about the hidden and mysterious wonders found in the dark kingdom beneath the ground.

The poem concludes with a sense of wonder and awe. The final stanza returns to the initial image of the “dark kingdom under ground,” but this time with a shift in tone. It emphasizes the abundance of “marvellous things” hidden within the earth, leaving the reader with a sense of wonder and curiosity about this unseen world

This stanza captures the overall theme of the poem – the fascination with the mysteries and marvels that exist beneath the surface of the earth. It encourages contemplation on the richness and diversity of the unseen world underground.

This stanza serves as a closing reflection, reminding us of the hidden beauty and complexity of the natural world, even in its unseen depths.

Poetic Devices:

  • Repetition: The use of “underground” in both the title and the last line emphasizes the theme and mystery of the underground world.
  • Repetition: “In the dark kingdom under ground” connects back to the first stanza, creating a sense of coming full circle.
  • Alliteration: Repetition of “m” sounds (“many marvellous”) creates a sense wonder and curiosity.
  • Exclamation: “How many marvellous things are found!” expresses awe and curiosity about the hidden treasures of the underground. The exclamation mark adds emphasis to the idea of the underground world being full of marvelous things
  • Mystery: The unanswered question leaves the reader wondering about the specific “marvellous things” found, further piquing their imagination.

Overall Poetic Devices

In “Underground” by James Reeves, several poetic devices enhance the imagery and convey the deeper meaning of the poem. Here are some major poetic devices used:

  1. Rhyme: The poem follows an AABB rhyme scheme in each stanza, contributing to its musicality and making it more engaging for the reader.
  2. Imagery: The poem is rich in vivid imagery, painting a picture of the underground world. Descriptions of the “earth’s green floor,” the ants running “to and fro,” and the “buried rocks and stones” create a clear and evocative mental picture for the reader.
  3. Metaphor:
    • The use of metaphors is prevalent throughout the poem. The “deep kingdom under ground” can be seen as a metaphor for the hidden aspects of life or the mysteries of the natural world underground. The tree roots extending “into the country of the dead” and rocks resembling “the earth’s gigantic bones” are metaphorical expressions connecting the living and the deceased.
  4. Enjambment:
    • The poem uses enjambment, where lines flow into each other without a pause, creating a continuous and flowing rhythm. This technique adds to the natural and uninterrupted feel of the underground world being described.
  5. Symbolism:
    • Various elements in the poem, such as the ants, tree roots, and rocks, can be interpreted symbolically. They may represent industriousness, the connection between life and death, and the enduring elements of the earth, respectively.
  6. Alliteration:
    • The repetition of consonant sounds in words close to each other, as in “light and little; Secure and warm beneath the soil,” contributes to the poem’s rhythmic quality and helps create a melodic flow.
  7. Contrast:
    • The poem contrasts the activities of creatures below ground with those on the surface, highlighting the dualities of the natural world and the human intrusion into the peaceful underground realm.
  8. Personification:
    • The poet personifies creatures like the rabbit, mole, and ants by attributing human-like qualities to them. For example, the ants are described as ‘hear’, “quarrying” and creating “populous empires.
  9. Repetition:
    • The repetition of the phrase “under ground” and the word “down” emphasizes the focus on the hidden world beneath the surface. This repetition reinforces the central theme of the poem.
  10. Symbolism:
    • The tree roots extending into the “country of the dead” and rocks resembling “the earth’s gigantic bones” serve as symbols, suggesting connections between the living and the deceased and evoking deeper meanings about life and death.
  11. Inversion:
    • The inversion of word order in phrases like “secure and warm beneath the soil” adds a poetic touch to the language. It helps maintain the rhythm and draws attention to the description of the creatures’ environment.
  12. Rhetorical Question:
    • The poet poses rhetorical questions like “Do they, as I pass overhead, / Stop in their work to hear my tread?” These questions engage the reader and encourage reflection on the impact of human presence on the underground world.

Central Idea of The Poem

The central idea of the poem “Underground” by James Reeves revolves around the exploration of the hidden and mysterious world beneath the surface of the earth. The poet takes the reader on a journey into the depths of the underground kingdom, describing the activities of various creatures such as rabbits, moles, and ants. The poem reflects on the contrast between the bustling life of some underground inhabitants, like the ants building empires, and the peaceful slumber of others. It also delves into the imagery of roots spreading like branches and rocks resembling gigantic bones. Overall, the central idea emphasizes the richness, wonder, and diversity of life beneath the earth’s surface, inviting readers to contemplate the hidden marvels of the underground world.

Themes of the Poem

The poem “Underground” explores several themes, capturing the essence of the hidden world beneath the surface. Some prominent themes include:

  1. Mystery and Exploration: The underground world is portrayed as a mysterious kingdom with no light and little sound. The poem invites readers to explore and contemplate the unknown aspects of this hidden realm.
  2. Diversity of Life: The poem depicts a variety of creatures inhabiting the underground, such as rabbits, moles, and ants. It highlights the diversity of life beneath the earth’s surface and the different activities and behaviors of these creatures.
  3. Contrast and Balance: There is a contrast between the active life of creatures like ants, which work to build “populous empires,” and the restful sleep of other creatures. The poem reflects on the balance between activity and repose in the underground world.
  4. Cycles of Life and Death: The imagery of tree roots spreading into the “country of the dead” and rocks being likened to “the earth’s gigantic bones” suggests a reflection on the cycles of life and death in the underground realm. It adds a contemplative layer to the exploration of the hidden world.
  5. Wonder and Marvel: The final lines of the poem express a sense of wonder about the underground world, emphasizing the marvelous things that can be found in the dark kingdom below. The theme of marvel encourages readers to appreciate the beauty and complexity of the hidden aspects of nature.
  6. Human Intrusion: The intrusion of a “fork or spade” into the earthy solitudes of the underground creatures suggests the theme of human interference and the impact of human activities on the natural world.

These themes collectively contribute to the poem’s rich portrayal of the underground world, inviting readers to consider the intricacies and mysteries of the often-overlooked realm beneath the surface of the earth.

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