Mariana: by Alfred Lord Tennyson - Summary & Analysis

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      Mariana was published in 1830. The moated grange is no particular grange but probably one which rose to the music of Shakespeare's words — "There at the moated grange, resides this dejected Mariana" (Measure for Measure, Act III, Sc. i). The poem belongs to the section of Tennyson's poems called "Juvenalia"

Mariana was published in 1830. The moated grange is no particular grange but probably one which rose to the music of Shakespeare's words — "There at the moated grange, resides this dejected Mariana" (Measure for Measure, Act III, Sc. i). The poem belongs to the section of Tennyson's poems called "Juvenalia"


      Mariana is a lovelorn maiden living in a moated grange. It is a building in ruins. The flower beds are covered with black moss. Everything is desolate and worn. Mariana complains about her loneliness and dreariness of life. She weeps all the time, morning, evening and night. She is weary of life because her lover does not come back to her. At a stone's throw from the wall is a moss-covered sluice. Nearby is a poplar, silver-green with twisted bark which is always shaking. For miles and miles there is the waste land all around. When the moon is low and the shrill winds blow, Mariana sees the shadow of the poplar on the window curtain swaying about in the wind. On still nights, the shadow falls on her bed and across her forehead. All day within the sleepy house, the doors produce a creaking sound as they turn upon their hinges. The blue fly hums against the glass window panes. The mouse in the wall panelling produces squeaky sounds. It seems to Mariana as if old faces peeped through the doors, that old footsteps walked along the upper floors, and that old voices spoke to her from outside. Mariana's mind is confused with the sounds of a chirping sparrow on the roof, the ticking of the slow clock and the soft rustle of the poplar as the wind blows against its branches. Mariana hates these sounds but more than anything else, she hates the hour when the sun is going to set in the western sky. All the time Mariana complains about her lover's absence and the dreariness of her life without him and wishes she could die.


Mood and Picture of External World Unified

      Mariana is a series of pictures of the grange, the woman, and the country around the grange, making up a powerful evocation of the sadness of the house and of the woman who lives in it. The slight variations in the refrain serve to emphasise the weary monotony, whose force is felt in the marked variation in the last line: 'Oh God, that I were dead.' In the first stanza we approach the grange as observers, noting the details of its desolate state. What is most important, perhaps, is the mingling of mood and object. The device of the formal refrain was an old one but the prolonged objectification in house and landscape of the woman's desolation was a new note in English poetry.

Picture Evoked in a Few Words

      In this poem, we see how, a few words can take hold of and enchant the fancy until it conjures up images of the landscape, the mournful aspect of a decaying house in a level waste, the chill air of grey dawn, the varying moods of despondency that follow the alternations of sun and shadow, of light and darkness, as they pass before a solitary watcher who looks vainly for someone who never comes.

Correspondence and Interaction between Outer and Inner Existence

      This profusion of accurate detail in filling up the picture is very characteristic of Tennyson's manner, so different from Wordsworth's, who is usually content to paint the background of his figures by a few strokes. This rare power of giving atmosphere to a poem by suggesting the correspondence and interaction between the mind and its surroundings, between the situation and the subjective feelings comes out even more forcibly in Mariana in the South, where we have the troubled sleep in exhaustion produced by intense heat, with the dream of cool breezes and running brooks, and the waking to consciousness of bare desolation. Always when the verse comes to life with marked feeling and individuality, it is at this evocation of landscape whose grey, lonely beauty matches a strange, hollow yearning in the human being. The scene and mood are one, and in Mariana they match as perfectly as in any poem written.

      Tennyson is working a poet's peculiar kind of magic: he throws out a series of pictures, lantern-slides upon a screen, and what takes shape as we watch them is something quite different; for the dying day, the level waste, the shrill winds and the poplar tree come to be experienced by us as they are by her, and the pictures show us as clearly as anything, her frustration and dreariness.

Symbolic Force

      The refrain 'I am aweary' is certainly explicit enough, but otherwise the expression is oblique. Incidental details come to have the representative force of symbols only in a very unobtrusive, unforced way. Thus, there is a poplar tree, 'all silver-green with gnarled bark', growing alone on the level waste. It is mentioned again in the next verse —

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.

      And again in the last verse:

the sound
Which to the wooing wind aloof
The poplar made.

      According to J.B. Steane, the erotic associations here are lightly, subtly handled, both pointed and poignant in their restraint. For the gnarled bark suggests a maleness, the woman will never embrace the insubstantiality of shadows and all that falls upon her bed; and the sterility of wind moving the branches of a tree is all the reality that love can ever have, as it moves in the frustrated desires of her mind.

      'I am half sick of shadows' is the cry of another of Tennyson's women. In The Lady of Shalott we have another isolated life, and again we know her and feel with her largely by a process of transference and suggestion. Two passionate statements are all the direct knowledge we have of her, yet her feelings are the vivid centre of this poem as Mariana's are of the other.

      The poem constantly moves inward to what we call the heart: through the spacious expanse of field, road and sky it penetrates further and further till it reaches the innermost nerve, the microscopic seat of the emotions, the centre of a power which for the individual can transform the whole exterior world. For Mariana, the beauty around her is poisoned by what is within her.

Sound Effects

      Even the sounds in the poem are conducive to the tension and gloom in the atmosphere. The sparrow's chirrup and the mouse's squeak — ordinary in themselves — contribute to the nervous tension in the poem. The sibilants, the hard 'k' and the extensive use of the lingering "o, ou and oo" sounds show how diction has been controlled to evoke the atmosphere of weariness and despair.


      Even the music of the poem works towards reflecting Mariana's hopelessness and gloom. "Her suffering and weariness find only partial expression in the four-line refrain, which with its flaccid monotony of diction and rhythm and its dying falls, 'dreary' and 'aweary’ intensifies the impression of unchanging enervation of spirit, its dulling, hypnotic repetition being varied only in the final stanza so that the lyric may end in a whimper of futility". The deviations from taut and nervous rhythms are meaningful, as in the fifth stanza where sudden movement is stressed by the poem's one quickly moving line —

And the shrill winds were up and away...

      Only for the suggestion of release to be stilled, almost mocked, by the torpor of the next few lines and the sluggish refrain.


      In Mariana, we do not have so much of a story as the evocation of a mood and atmosphere. Thus, we have no character building or any story to indicate why Mariana is lonely or why her lover does not come. The images of landscape and music of the words rather than the meaning of words evoke an elegiac mood, a dreamy, half-supernatural atmosphere.

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