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.)