Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Marshes of Glynn” is dense with religious imagery and meaning. By entering the woods, the narrator is cleansed from his former world outside the marsh and acquires faith, which leads him to a union with the marsh and thus God’s greatness. In observing and considering the marsh and all that is in it, he reaches that point where he can begin to understand—though not fully—the true meaning of this newfound faith. “The Marshes of Glynn” is also a poem about journeys. It examines both the narrator’s search to understand self and his spiritual progress toward a union with God and nature. First, Lanier explores humankind’s journey into the dark depths of self. The poem follows its narrator from the very edge of self-knowledge—the woods—to the depths of the narrator’s questioning soul—the marsh—to discover that self-knowledge is not really possible. The poem also illustrates another kind of journey—the universal search for God and the ultimate truth of life through nature. The narrator desires to “fly in the greatness of God.” By the poem’s end, he has discovered that “from the Vast of the Lord will the waters of sleep/ Roll in on the souls of men.” In this case, the sea represents God, whose tide envelops the marshes or the human soul. As in the narrator’s search for self, he discovers that true knowledge of God and nature is impossible. In both cases, it is during the night in the marshes that the narrator comes to terms with...

(The entire section is 467 words.)