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In case you didn't know it, poets love to write about heartache and suffering.
Shakespeare wrote a whole book of sonnets about the subject (not to mention quite a few plays, but we'll get to him later). Keats, despite his young age, spent a great deal of time waxing poetic on love and loss. And there are plenty more: Shelley, Cummings, and Plath all wrote sad love lines, too.
It's rare, though, that a poem about heartbreak doesn't have any actual love in it. That's what sets Tennyson's "Mariana" apart. It's a poem about a jilted woman who lives in seclusion, nursing her broken heart and waiting for someone to return who is… never going to return. Get ready for some serious isolation, sorrow, and despair.
The landscape of the poem, then, is dreary and desolate. Not much happens. That's the point, though: when you have a broken heart, life can feel like one big monotonous disappointment.
And yet, despite its downer content, this poem was hit. In fact, Tennyson published it way back in 1830, but the poem is still considered one of his most famous and beloved. Why? Because the poem still has some very relevant things to say about how our psyche affects the way we see the world, and what it feels like to live inside the gloom of romantic disappointment.
And that, like heartbreak, is something we all know a thing or two about.
Ever notice that, when you are having a bad day, the whole world seems a little darker? A little gloomier? Or how about when you are heartbroken? Even a sunny morning can seem dull and dreary.
Tennyson got it.
Mariana, the heartbroken star of "Mariana," got it, too. Every day is the same for her: she looks outside and it's ugly. She looks inside and it's dusty and dull; inanimate things seem sad and lonely—just like she feels.
Rinse, lather, repeat.
But the day isn't really gloomy, is it? Days don't have any emotions at all. Tennyson is giving aspects of nature human qualities with a little poetic trick we like to call pathetic fallacy. In fact, he was arguably one of the first poets to really explore the possibilities of pathetic fallacy, and he certainly wasn't the last. Famous poets and writers, like Mary Shelley and T.S. Eliot, would go on to use this technique to bring to life emotions that feel way too big to contain.
Why is the pathetic fallacy so popular with writers? Well, we all have those difficult, overwhelming emotions that are hard to express. But finding a way to express them is just what writers do.
So, next time you have a case of the gloomies, when the world around you seems like it's caving in, just remember Tennyson and "Mariana." It's not really the end of the world. It's just your insides messing with what you see on the outside. Keep that in mind and—trust us—you won't have to feel so…well, pathetic.
The Life of a Lord
Tennyson certainly was an interesting fella. You don't get made a Lord for nothing.
Lost and Found(ation)
Check out the Poetry Foundation's bio of Tennyson. He's a favorite amongst poets.
Working the Net
The Literature Network offers up more on Tennyson and his work.
The Circle of the Hills
Enjoy this hour long biography of the poet.
Tennyson on Wax
Hear one of the first recorded poets read his stuff. The creepy animation is just a bonus.
Voice of Librivox
Here's a female voice for this poem.
We dig the deep, rich tones.
A Dashing Lord
We think the hat is a good look for him.
My—that is a fancy get-up, your Lordship.
Mariana with Flowers
Check out artist Valentine Prinsep's version of our gal.
The Guardian's Essential Reading
Tennyson remains one of poetry's heavy-hitters.
Check out some of his most famous expressions.
Get all Tennyson, all the time.