Mariana by Tennyson: Analysis & Overview

Instructor: Francesca Marinaro

Francesca M. Marinaro has a PhD in English from the University of Florida and has been teaching English composition and Literature since 2007.

This lesson looks at the poem 'Mariana' by Alfred Lord Tennyson. Together we'll discuss the poem's background and meaning, learn about the basic structure of the lyrical narrative poem, explore Tennyson's use of imagery and symbolism, and finish the lesson with a quick quiz.

Mariana: Background and Summary

Mariana is a poem by English writer Alfred Lord Tennyson, first published in 1830 in his collection Poems, Chiefly Lyrical. It follows the themes of isolation and memory, which are commonly explored in Tennyson's work.

Tennyson based his Mariana on a character in William Shakespeare's play Measure for Measure. In the play, Mariana is rejected by the character Angelo and pines alone for him. And in Tennyson's poem, Mariana waits for her lover and her sadness increases throughout the poem, as she waits longer and longer for him, never to arrive.

Alfred Lord Tennyson
Alfred Lord Tennyson

Structure of the Poem

Mariana is a lyrical narrative, a story told in verse form. The poem contains seven stanzas (divisions within the poem) with twelve lines each. Each stanza describes Mariana's state of mind with increasing sadness.

Tennyson devotes the first stanza to describing the forlorn scenery:

With blackest moss the flower-plots were thickly crusted, one and all…the broken sheds look'd sad and strange. Unlifted was the clinking latch (ll. 1-2 and 5-6).

At the end of stanza one, Mariana contemplates sadly that her lover has not appeared; by the beginning of stanza two, she has begun to cry:

Her tears fell with the dews at even; her tears fell ere the dews were dried (ll. 13-14).

She moves from gazing from her window with some lingering hope to utter hopelessness by stanza five:

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 (ll. 53-56).

This shadow symbolizes the darkness in Mariana's life without her lover's presence.

Characteristic of the lyrical narrative poem, the poem contains a refrain in the last four lines of each stanza. A refrain repeats with minor variations throughout the poem, similar to the chorus of a song:

She only said, 'My life is dreary. He cometh not,' she said. 'I am aweary, aweary. I would that I were dead. (ll. 9-12).

The most dramatic shift in the refrain comes in the final stanza, in which Mariana gives up any remaining hope:

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! (ll. 81-84).

Mariana in the Moted Grange, a painting by John Everett Millais, 1851
Mariana

Analysis

Tennyson's language in this poem sets the tone of melancholy and allows the reader to experience Mariana's wait for her lover and her hopelessness. Many of Tennyson's poems explore the theme of the dramatic monologue, a form that explores a character's deepest thoughts and feelings. This poem, however, while containing elements of the dramatic monologue in its description of Mariana's emotions, describes those emotions from the third person rather than the first person point of view.

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