‘Marrysong’ by Dennis Scott is a seventeen line poem that does not follow a particular rhyme scheme, although a careful reading of this piece one will discover that there are a few sets of lines, or couplets, that do rhyme. One such example is “find” and “mind,” in the last two lines of the poem.
The title of this piece is quite literal. The poem is a song that describes the marriage between two people and all of the quirks that come with it.
The poet also makes repetitive use of the technique of enjambment. There are a number of lines in this piece that cut off before their natural stopping point. All of these moments were created intentionally in an effort to control a reader’s pace and understanding of the poem. Often times enjambment can cause a poem to feel halting or choppy, this can work in a poet’s favor as it tends to carry a reader on to the end. A faster pace often ensures a complete reading.
Additionally, the strategic placement of these line breaks references the changing landscape that is mentioned in the poem. Just as the husband is forced to contend with the worlds his wife is constructing, so too is the reader made to navigate the syntax of ‘Marrysong’.
The poem begins with the speaker saying that although the couple has been married for “years and years,” the husband has yet to fully figure his wife out. She is still somewhat of an enigma to him and he wonders at the changes in her personality. There are moments in their lives in which she is loving, calm, and clear, but there are others in which she could be compared to a powerful storm that changes the shape of the shore.
The wife’s shifting perspectives are violent enough to change the landscape of their relationship. She can cause rain, wind, or sun with a turn of her emotions.
In the final lines of the poem the speaker states that the husband has long since come to terms with the facts of his relationship. He knows that nothing is ever going to change the way his wife is and he must make the best of it. He has chosen to remain alongside her, as much as he possibly can, in an attempt to understand her better.
You can read the full poem here.
Analysis of Marrysong
He never learned her, quite. Year after year
That territory, without seasons, shifted
on turning, see cool water laughing where
the day before there were stones in her voice.
In the first set of lines, the speaker introduces the reader to the two main characters of this piece, the husband and wife whose marriage is going to be described. Throughout this poem, the speaker is semi-omniscient in that he can see into the mind of the husband and describe the emotions he is experiencing in connection with his wife.
In the first line, the speaker says a line that describes the entire poem, and the portion of the husband in this relationship. “He,” referring to the husband, “never learned her, quite,” referring to the wife. Although the two have been and will be, together for a long time, the husband has yet to fully understand who his wife is and how her emotions, thoughts, and actions are formed. This is a perfect opening line as all the details that follow will fall into this category of not “quite” understanding.
The two have been together, “Year after year,” and during that time the places they lived, emotionally, and walked together, communally, “shifted.” Although they were side by side things were always changing. The speaker blames this change on the nature of the wife’s emotions towards her husband. One moment she can be “walled in anger” and the next she could be “laughing” like “cool water.” These changes, to the husband’s eyes, seem to come from nowhere.
He charted. She made wilderness again.
Roads disappeared. The map was never true.
like trees seen from an unexpected hill,
new country at each jaunty helpless journey.
In the next set of lines, the speaker continues to further describe the nature of the relationship. While they moved through their lives together, and the husband took note of his wife’s changing mind and emotions, he made a real effort to remember why and how she changed. What made her feel one way, and what made her change her mind. The speaker refers to this effort as “chart[ing].”
The narrator is comparing the way that the husband attempts to understand his wife to the way that an explorer might map a new destination. Every time the husband thought he had made some progress the wife “made wilderness again.” She has complete control over everything and is capable of crafting any world she wants to. There are “Roads” which “disappear” making it so that there is never one “true” map.
In addition to the terrain changes, the wife is metaphorically able to change the weather. She brings saltwater “rains sometimes,” strong enough to “change the shape of shores.” Other times everything is calm.
The love that the wife holds towards her husband stretches into long or shrinks into short, shadows depending on her mood. It created for the husband a “new country” around every corner.
So he accepted that geography, constantly strange.
his way among the landscapes of her mind.
In the final three lines, the speaker states that the husband has long since “accepted that geography.” He knows nothing is ever going to change in their relationship and he must embrace the “constantly strange” and wonderful landscapes.
In conclusion, the speaker says the husband’s solution to solving his wife is to spend more time alongside her in the “landscapes of her mind.” It is only there that he will be close enough to her to maybe understand where she is coming from.