The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Mariana” is a lyric poem of seven twelve-line stanzas, each ending in a refrain. The epigraph, “Mariana in the moated grange,” is from William Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure (1604), in which Mariana has been deserted by her lover, Angelo. The poem is also indebted to John Keats’s Isabella (1820).

“Mariana” begins with a vivid depiction of setting and mood. The grange and its garden have fallen into disrepair. The flower plots are clogged with “blackest moss.” Like Mariana, they are fertile but bereft of human care; they remain fallow. The house, too, is neglected. The roof’s “ancient thatch” is worn and full of weeds; “rusted nails” allow the pear tree to fall from the gable wall; the gate’s “clinking latch,” moved only by the wind, remains “unlifted.” This description of physical decay is emphasized by the obsessive lament of Mariana’s refrain. Her life is “dreary”; she is “aweary, aweary” because “He cometh not,” and she wishes that she were dead. Hers is the only human voice to break the silence.

The still-life effect of stanza 1 is followed by the slow passage of time in the remaining stanzas. She weeps morning and evening, so preoccupied with her earthly longing for Angelo (the unnamed “he” who haunts the poem) that she cannot “look on the sweet heaven.” She hears only the sinister “flitting of the bats.” When she does look out her window, all she sees...

(The entire section is 538 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Mariana” appeared to universal critical acclaim for its pictorial qualities. It has been said that Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s poem prefigured the practices of the Pre-Raphaelite painters and poets, for whom an accumulation of vivid detail and an emphasis on feeling over idea were major tenets. John Everett Millais’s Mariana is one of the centerpieces of Pre-Raphaelite painting.

John Stuart Mill praised Tennyson’s excellence in “scene-painting, in the higher sense”—that is, in “the power of creating scenery, in keeping with some state of human feeling; so fitted to it as to be the embodied symbol of it.” The emotions in the poem are suggested by the accumulation of precise details, the layering of which acquire symbolic force, before being stated directly in the refrain.

The poem’s point of view encourages the reader to identify with Mariana’s state of mind. In Tennyson: The Unquiet Heart (1983), Robert Martin has said that the poem “foreshadows Tennyson’s success in later works that were in all but name dramatic monologues.” Mariana’s perceptions and emotions become those of the reader’s.

Distorted imagery reflects Mariana’s hypersensitivity, a result of being deprived of human companionship. At the height of her crisis, she animates her environment with hallucinations. Her vision is magnified (“The blue fly sung in the pane”); her hearing is amplified (“the mouse/...

(The entire section is 523 words.)