Mariana by Alfred Lord Tennyson

The subject of ‘Mariana’ comes from Shakespeare’s play Measure for Measure. The poet was interested in the line “Mariana in the moated grange,” as it appears in the epigraph of the poem. This short line describes a young woman who is waiting for her lover, Angelo. He has abandoned her after losing possession of her dowery. It is this emotional experience, one of isolation and loneliness, that the poem expands on. 

 

Summary of Mariana 

‘Mariana’ by Alfred Lord Tennyson is a dark and depressing poem that depicts the emotional strife of a young woman who is abandoned by her lover.

The stanzas of this poem take the reader through a series of images that depict outwardly the inner emotional turmoil that Mariana is experiencing. Her emotions are transmuted onto the larger setting. The speaker describes a dark and abandoned farmhouse that is falling apart. It is in desperate need of repair but no one is there to tend to it. Just as Mariana’s mind is slipping away from light, happiness, and hope for the future, so too are her surroundings. 

Towards the middle of the poem, a very important image shows itself, a poplar tree. It is the only thing to be seen on the flat and featureless landscape that surrounds the farmhouse. This tree, which stands upright in an otherwise flat field, is often interpreted as a phallic symbol. This is emphasized by the poplar tree’s shadow that falls across Mariana’s bed at night.

The speaker does not reach a conclusion about Mariana’s future nor does Mariana make any kind of transition away from mourning her lover. Rather, the poem continues to reiterate these dark symbols and emotions. It concludes with Mariana stating that she has become “dreary“.

 

Structure of Mariana 

Mariana’ by Alfred Lord Tennyson is a seven stanza poem that is made up of sets of twelve lines. These lines follow the consistent rhyme scheme of ABABCDDCEFEF. The last four lines, with a few small exceptions, are the same at the end of each stanza. This creates what is known as a refrain. In this iteration, the technique becomes quite haunting and strange. The content and context make the works feel like an invocation. 

Tennyson further structured this poem in iambic tetrameter. This means that each line contains four sets of two beats, the first of these is unstressed and the second is stressed. 

 

Literary Devices in Mariana 

Tennyson makes use of several literary devices in ‘Mariana’. These include but are not limited to alliteration, enjambment, and accumulation. The first of these, alliteration, occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. For example, “Weeded” and “worn” in line seven of the first stanza and “dews” and “dried” in line two of the second stanza. 

Another important technique commonly used in poetry is enjambment. It occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. For example, the transition between lines three of four of the first stanza as well as that between lines four and five of the third stanza.

Accumulation is a literary device that relates to a list of words or phrases that have similar, if not the same, meanings. In a poem, story, or novel, these words are grouped together or appear scattered throughout a work. They collect or pile up, and a theme, image, sensation, or deeper meaning is revealed. This entire poem acts as an example of accumulation. It provides the reader with details that build up a physical image of the main character’s state of mind. 

 

Analysis of Mariana 

Stanza One 

With blackest moss the flower-plots 

Were thickly crusted, one and all: 

The rusted nails fell from the knots 

That held the pear to the gable-wall. 

The broken sheds look’d sad and strange: 

Unlifted was the clinking latch; 

Weeded and worn the ancient thatch 

Upon the lonely moated grange. 

She only said, “My life is dreary, 

He cometh not,” she said; 

She said, “I am aweary, aweary, 

I would that I were dead!”    

In the first lines of ‘Mariana’, the speaker begins by introducing a dark and dreary scene. There are moss “crusted” flowerpots and collapsing walls. The entire structure, which turns out to be a farmhouse, is abandoned. 

The speaker also describes a pear tree that was nailed to the wall with rusted nails. The whole scene is strange and “sad“. The place has been devoid of maintenance for a long period of time and weeds are growing unabated everywhere. Tennyson makes use of several literary devices in this first stanza including alliteration. It can be seen with words such as “Weeded” and “worn”. At this point the speaker transitions into the refrain. In the last four lines of each stanza of the speaker repeats dialogue and description that only changes slightly.

In this first iteration, a woman enters the story. It is Mariana, the main character of this poem, and who came from Shakespeare’s play measure for measure. She is describing her current state of mind and alluding to the fact that she has been abandoned by her lover and the man she intended to marry. She’s weary, depressed, and wishes that she were dead.

 

Stanza Two

Her tears fell with the dews at even; 

Her tears fell ere the dews were dried; 

She could not look on the sweet heaven, 

Either at morn or eventide. 

After the flitting of the bats, 

When thickest dark did trance the sky, 

She drew her casement-curtain by, 

And glanced athwart the glooming flats. 

She only said, “The night is dreary, 

He cometh not,” she said; 

She said, “I am aweary, aweary, 

I would that I were dead!”

 In the second stanza of ‘Mariana,’ the speaker spends more time describing the state that Mariana is in. He uses a technique known as anaphora in the repetition of the words “her tears fail“ at the beginning of lines one and two of the stanza. Other words such as “dews“ are also repeated. In the second stanza, the speaker describes how the young woman cries constantly from the morning to the evening. 

Rather than following a specific narrative arc, the poet spends this stanza and all the others describing broadly this woman’s experience and how she feels in her lonely state. The woman is unable to look outside her window at the “sweet heaven“. She’s so depressed that the only time she can look outside is when it’s dark and featureless. The “glooming flats“ outside of her window are “dreary“. The same lines are repeated at the end of this stanza as were featured at the end of the first stanza except for this time she says that the “night” is dreary.

 

Stanza Three 

Upon the middle of the night, 

Waking she heard the night-fowl crow: 

The cock sung out an hour ere light: 

From the dark fen the oxen’s low 

Came to her: without hope of change, 

In sleep she seem’d to walk forlorn, 

Till cold winds woke the gray-eyed morn 

About the lonely moated grange. 

She only said, “The day is dreary, 

He cometh not,” she said; 

She said, “I am aweary, aweary, 

I would that I were dead!” 

In the third stanza of ‘Mariana,’ the speaker describes a moment in which the woman heard a sound in the middle of the night. It was the “night foul crow“. The “cock sung out an hour ere light“. She wakes to the sound of this crow that’s calling out an hour before dawn. She also hears the sound of oxen in the fields. Even while she’s asleep her mind wanders depressingly. She walks “forlorn” in her sleep until the morning wakes her in this depressing environment. There are more examples of alliteration in this stanza, as well as enjambment and personification. The latter can be seen through the example of the morning being described as “gray-eyed“.Well as

The refrain at the end of the third stanza is only slightly different than the two which appeared in the previous stanzas. This time she says that the “day“ is Druery rather than her life.

 

Stanza Four 

About a stone-cast from the wall 

A sluice with blacken’d waters slept, 

And o’er it many, round and small, 

The cluster’d marish-mosses crept. 

Hard by a poplar shook alway, 

All silver-green with gnarled bark: 

For leagues no other tree did mark 

The level waste, the rounding gray. 

She only said, “My life is dreary, 

He cometh not,” she said; 

She said “I am aweary, aweary 

I would that I were dead!” 

The fourth stanza of the poem describes how near the wall there is a man-made passage for water. Rather than existing as a source of refreshment in life, the waters are “blackened“ and filled with moss. The decay and depression that can be seen in the environment is a product of this woman’s state of mind, and the larger atmosphere that Tennyson is hoping to convey. The speaker also describes a single poplar tree that’s shaking back-and-forth. It is the only feature in an otherwise bleak and flat landscape. The world around her is “level waste“. The refrain in the stanza is identical to that which occurs in the first stanza.

 

Stanza Five 

And ever when the moon was low, 

And the shrill winds were up and away, 

In the white curtain, to and fro, 

She saw the gusty shadow sway. 

But when the moon was very low 

And wild winds bound within their cell, 

The shadow of the poplar fell 

Upon her bed, across her brow. 

She only said, “The night is dreary, 

He cometh not,” she said; 

She said “I am aweary, aweary, 

I would that I were dead!” 

The fifth stanza of the poem describes the moon, the sky, and the wind. When she looked outside her window she could see the moon hanging low and the wind blowing through the landscape. It appears as though the shadows are swaying and are entering into her personal space. The shadow of the single poplar tree fell across her bed and across her “brow“. This is a very clear and poignant image that accurately and successfully depicts the darkness that’s upon her mind. In the refrain of this stanza, the speaker says that the “night“ is dreary. The repetition of these words at the end of each stanza creates a haunting atmosphere. The lines take on the sound of a dark mantra or incantation.

 

Stanza Six 

All day within the dreamy house,

The doors upon their hinges creak’d;

The blue fly sung in the pane; the mouse

Behind the mouldering wainscot shriek’d,

Or from the crevice peer’d about.

Old faces glimmer’d thro’ the doors

Old footsteps trod the upper floors,

Old voices called her from without.

She only said, “My life is dreary,

He cometh not,” she said;

She said, “I am aweary, aweary,

I would that I were dead!”

Despite the overall darkness and depression of the scene, there is movement and sound. The speaker describes how all day the door hinges creak and the mice shriek behind the wainscoting. This old farmhouse that is at the center of this poem is filled with “old faces“. These mental images, memories, and ghost-like presences have come from the past and are haunting the speaker’s present. She is experiencing other lives and other voices that sound throughout the surroundings and mimic her own experience.

 

Stanza Seven

The sparrow’s chirrup on the roof, 

The slow clock ticking, and the sound 

Which to the wooing wind aloof 

The poplar made, did all confound 

Her sense; but most she loathed the hour 

When the thick-moted sunbeam lay 

Athwart the chambers, and the day 

Was sloping toward his western bower. 

Then said she, “I am very dreary, 

He will not come,” she said; 

She wept, “I am aweary, aweary, 

Oh God, that I were dead!”  

In the seventh stanza of ‘Mariana,’ the speaker picks back up by describing the chirping of a sparrow on the roof. It’s a sound that surprises and disturbs Mariana. The same can be said of the sound of the clock ticking and the wind blowing. She is upset by the variety of sounds, as well as the moments in which sunbeams lay across her bedroom and the day enters its last moments of light. The sun “sloping toward his western power“ bothers her. The poem concludes with one final repetition of the refrain. This time rather than saying that the night, the day, or her life is dreary, she says that she is the dreary one. The emotional setting has cemented itself within her mind. It changed her entire outlook and personality.

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