Mariana


by Alfred Lord Tennyson

‘Mariana in the moated grange.’
Measure for Measure

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!’

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!’

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!’

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!’

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!’

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!’

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!’


Yes, but what does it mean, Dave?

Mariana is a poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson. Its name is taken from a Shakespeare play: Measure for Measure. In the play, I think Maraina is wating for Angelo to marry her or something like that, but he takes a long time. Not so in the poem - he's a no-show.

Mariana is a poem that deals with the classic Romantic issues of isolation and suffering, yet Tennyson avoids a character study and instead focuses on examining the mood and states of feeling. Stylistically, the melancholic tone is conveyed perfectly: caesuras occur in the middle of each line, and this creates a rhythmic, faltering tone that possesses simultaneous pain and beauty; Particularly in the refrain, where the addition of repetition suggests a lack of breath and a general slowdown of time that represents the slow mental anguish suffered by Mariana. Mariana’s suffering is conveyed, yet she seems to wallow in this, enjoying the harmony. The regular rhyme scheme, along with the tendency to rhyme on the monosyllables results in a monotonous melancholy that pervades the poem, and audibly creates the feeing of boredom. Stanzas are fixed lengths with geometrically regular shapes and visually, Tennyson creates an atmosphere of restriction and continuity; indeed, Tennyson even writes “without hope of change,” referring to both Mariana’s actions and the structure of the poem. The critic George Landow refers to the stanzas as “intensely visual static panels or tableaux,” and it is interesting to observe the movement of the poem occurring independently of time itself, thus allowing Tennyson to take a single moment and explore very detail; a style that Rhoda Flaxman refers to as “narrative of landscape.”

Grief is a concept that Tennyson illustrates throughout the first stanza; the “blackest moss” visually represents darkness and negativity yet I think the context of these images is important. Moss is an organic life form and it sits near a flower; beneath these images of stagnancy are images of stifled growth, but they are not totally infertile. My English teacher refuses to believe this, claiming the poem is about stagnancy, stagnancy, stagnancy, but I'm sure that there are bright images beneath the gloom. The presence of life suggests that hope exists for Mariana; hope for growth and development. The nails are “rusted”, the sheds “broken” and the thatch “Weeded and worn,” and through pathetic fallacy Tennyson fills the stanza with stale images using words with short vowels framed by hard, sharp consonants. In fact the phrase “lonely moated grange” (a Shakespeare phrase, I believe - from whcih play?) breaks the form, and the assonance contrasts the density of the past lines with the openness (and resulting desolation) of the grange. The focus appears to be on the landscape rather than on Mariana yet her pain is conveyed all the same. Tennyson finds beauty in the smallest detail, such as “cluster’d marish-mosses,” but passes over the “sweet heaven” and the “moon”; this stylistic device mirrors the manner in which Maria feels she is in a nightmare; large, important entities like time of day, and darkness change slowly and are described vaguely, leaving Mariana and Tennyson to search for meaning in the words themselves, which she repeats and from which she draws solace. The refrain at the end of each stanza reinforces the poem’s musical qualities; through rhythm, rhyme and aliteration Tennyson appeals to our aural senses as well as our visual ones, yet why does he write a musical poem? Tennyson manages to explain Mariana’s melancholy whilst allowing his lyrical language to convey the beauty of her words, surroundings and mood. Again, although looking at one moment in time, music plays throughout the poem, and this symbolises the manner in which Mariana’s self-obsession occurs, whether the world moves on or not; it emphasizes one of the main issues of Romantic poetry – that the individual is far more significant than collective society.

However, John Donne wrote, “No man is an island,” and Tennyson (through his imagery) recognises that humans are far more than the sum of their parts, and that Mariana’s very existence is defined by her interaction with others: the individual in Mariana is detached from society, and is described as a “poplar” with a “gnarled bark.” Deformed by time and self-inflicted wounds, it withers without companions. It is once again important to note that there are underlying potent images of growth in the tree, which stands alone among the “blacken’d water,” which twists conventional poetic typology. Water, generally a symbol of growth and life, is tainted by the blackness as Maria is by the shadows that enter her room. It contrasts with the surrounding rot and decay but its description as “sliver-green” suggests a surreal quality it possesses, and this reinforces the nightmarish surroundings. Most importantly, I believe, is the description of its shadow, which teases Maria. In fact, this shadow idea reminds me of The Lady of Shalott where she justcan't take it any more and breaks free. Mariana just stays there, getting bored. The growth and freedom that it represents are present in its shadow, which is at the mercy of the sun, and so the image of escape continually and regularly approaches Mariana and then fades away. In fact, images of the “sweet heaven” and the “sparrow’s chirrup” mock Mariana, because they symbolise the unattainable in life. This desire for the ungraspable leaves Mariana with a sense of loss, and having failed to grasp her desires, she shuns the world, becoming self-obsessed and filled with grief.

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