Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

While Marriage is a satirical poem, the object of its satire is elusive and ambiguous. At some points, marriage itself seems to be satirized as a romantic delusion. Given the author’s orthodox and conservative Christian belief, however, such an interpretation has limited persuasiveness. Rather, her witty barbs seem aimed more at the incrustations of artificial forms and manners that have obscured the elemental passionate union, and equally at the deceptions and misrepresentations made in the name of marriage. When love comes into the discussion, it is either as infatuate fixation, as in the passage from Trollope on “love that will gaze an eagle blind,” or the mutual narcissism of the self-absorbed couple. Finally, the speaker admits to an inadequacy of rational explanation in, characteristically, another cited passage, this one from French fabulist Jean de La Fontaine: “Everything to do with love is a mystery.” The true paradox is the institution of marriage as a combination of public contractual obligation and intimate, emotional experience.

The contrast between the public, social façade of marriage and the internal emotional dynamics of a love relationship emerges most forcefully in the dialogue between man and woman that the speaker reports in the last half of the poem. This exchange is actually a series of alternating pronouncements rather than a true dialogue, as the two principals actually speak to each other only at one point....

(The entire section is 441 words.)