Shhh—listen closely, gang. Do you hear that? There's a whole lot of cadence (or, musical elements) in Mariana. Keep your ears open as we dive into a few examples.
First and foremost, we get a refrain. Poets tend to use refrains just like singer-songwriters do. And Tennyson definitely was a fan:
She only said, "My life is dreary,
He cometh not," she said;
She said, "I am aweary, aweary,
I would that I were dead!" (9-12)
Those lines are repeated at the end of each stanza, with just a few strategic word changes. This refrain makes the poem seem more like a song than anything else.
Tennyson uses plenty of repetition elsewhere in the poem, too. He frequently repeats words, like "aweary" and "low." And then there's Tennyson's use of anaphora, or repetition of initial phrases. For example:
Old faces glimmer'd thro' the doors
Old footsteps trod the upper floors,
Old voices called her from without. (66-68)
All this repetition gives the poem a musical feel, and the sense that everything in Mariana's life is just part of the same-old cycle. It's kind of like a sad song that doesn't end.
But repetition isn't the only sonic trick Tennyson has up his sleeve. He also uses alliteration, or repetition of initial consonant sounds.
When thickest dark did trance the sky,
She drew her casement-curtain by, (18-19)
We'll bet you can't say those lines ten times fast without stumbling. Notice all the T, D and C words? That's alliteration, and it stitches the lines together in a way. All those sounds echo closely against one another, creating a subtle effect of feeling trapped—just like poor Mariana, holed up in her farmhouse.
Here we go: Mariana is a young lady who has been recently jilted by her fiancé. She gets dumped when her father's dowry dries up, actually. Her (ex-) boyfriend = not a nice guy. To recover from her heartbreak, she holes up in a farmhouse that is surrounded by a moat—just like a princess from a fairytale.
Just one problem: he never comes. Pretty much that's what happens in the poem, too—and not much else, if you think about it. Tennyson isn't re-writing Mariana's story, though, or adding a happy (or sad) ending. He's just lingering with her, in the farmhouse, for a little, and letting us see what it's like to live with despair and sorrow. Um, thanks?
This one's easy enough: Mariana is at her farmhouse, and at her farmhouse is where she stays. This scene is set from the get go: moss overruns the walls and ceiling, rust is eroding the nails, and everything is dirty, dank, and dreary.
And that's just in the first stanza. In the second stanza, she peers outside. It isn't until the third stanza, in fact, that she ventures out. There she sees a barren landscape, save a poplar tree and a very misty landscape.
In stanza four, we see the moat that surrounds the farmhouse. It's dark and thick. It, too, isn't moving much. Nothing really moves, actually. In the sixth and seventh stanzas, Mariana returns to the house, and we see that it is inhabited by mice, noisy clocks, and the ghosts of her past.
Yikes. It's safe to say that the setting of the poem is a gloomy, dreary, unpleasant one—just like poor Mariana's life.
We really don't get to meet the speaker in this poem. In fact, the only person present in the poem is Mariana, with whom our speaker seems very familiar.
The speaker sets the scene immediately. It's dark, gloomy, and run-down at the farmhouse, and things aren't looking too good for ol' Mariana. He (we're just assuming he's a he) knows her moods, and can hear her nightly refrain.
But does the speaker seem at all concerned? Nope.
Think of the speaker like the narrator of a play: he sets the scene, tells us what we need to know, and then sets the scene again the next day.
There's one question we can ask here, though: why doesn't Mariana get to narrate? Well, she herself is a character in a play, and they usually don't get to narrate the scenes while they appear in them.
Ultimately, we don't really get a speaker in a conventional poetic sense. We get more of a dramatic narrator. That seems appropriate for this poem, though. By setting up the poem similarly to the way a play would be set, Tennyson seems to be giving a nod to his main inspiration for this: Shakespeare.
It may reference Shakespeare and use a few outdated words, but Tennyson's Mariana isn't very tricky. There are no obscure allusions or foreign words to translate, and the overall theme is pretty apparent from the get-go. Oh, and all that repetition sure helps. We're betting you'll come out of the woods (er, farmhouse) unscathed.
Tennyson is famous for his lyrical lines and poetic stylings. Just take a look at any of his most famous works to see the wordsmith at work. But don't forget to pay attention to the underlying tone of those poems while you're at it. Tennyson's work is filled with loneliness and heartbreak. In fact, he even wrote a series of poems about King Arthur and Guinevere, who experienced tragedy in both love and kingdom. Just take a look at Mariana's overall theme of despair. Though the words are pretty, the sentiment is sorrowful. Bummers were just Tennyson's bag.
On the page, Mariana looks, well, pretty much exactly like what you'd expect a poem to look like. We have seven stanzas, each with twelve lines. And, within each of the stanzas, we have some rhyming. For example:
Her tears fell with the dews at even; A
Her tears fell ere the dews were dried; B
She could not look on the sweet heaven, A
Either at morn or eventide. B (13-16)
Because the last words in each line rhyme in an alternating pattern, these four lines are written in rhyme scheme that would be noted as ABAB.
Tennyson doesn't stick to ABAB the whole time, though. Here's the rest of that stanza:
After the flitting of the bats, C
When thickest dark did trance the sky, D
She drew her casement-curtain by, D
And glanced athwart the glooming flats. C
She only said, "The night is dreary, E
He cometh not," she said; F
She said, "I am aweary, aweary, E
I would that I were dead!" F (17-24)
Give this pattern of end rhymes, we can say that each stanza is written in an ABAB CDDC EFEF rhyme scheme. Don't worry, though. That pattern will not be on the test (at least, we hope it won't).
Try reading the following aloud, paying attention to the way the syllables sound:
About a stone-cast from the wall
A sluice with blacken'd waters slept, (37-38).
It probably sounded something like this:
daDUM daDUM daDUM daDUM
daDUM daDUM daDUM daDUM
Each set of two syllables (each daDUM) is called a foot, and each foot is made up of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. This kind of syllable pair is what's known as an iamb. And because each line has four iambs (four daDUMs), the line therefore written in iambic tetrameter (tetra- meaning four).
Most of the poem follows iambic tetrameter, but there are a few lines that do their own thing. For example:
I would that I were dead! (12)
daDUM daDUM daDUM
We still have daDUMS, or iambs, but there are only three feet in a line like this. Therefore, the line is written in, you guessed it: iambic trimeter.
So why the change when it comes to these lines? Why didn't Tennyson stick to his metrical guns and keep each line's meter consistent? One idea is that the break in the regular, established rhythm of the lines really drives home how down in the dumps poor Mariana is. One risk of having a super-regular meter and rhyme scheme is that the poem becomes sing-songy. Changing things up with some iambic trimeter, though, eliminates any chance of that.
We're instead left with an off-sounding line that really drives home how off our speaker is. (Check out "Speaker" for more on the depths of her bummed-out-ness.)
In the lonely, dark landscape grows one single tree. Still, it's doing more than just growing.
The poplar tree of line 41 works as a symbol for the woman's loneliness and desire for the man to return. But how do we know that this tree is more than just a tree?
For starters, it stands alone: "For leagues no other tree did mark/ The level waste" (43-44). This causes it to become Mariana's focus when she looks out the window, and thus she begins to transfer her loneliness onto it.
Oh…and trees can also be a phallic symbol, and a symbol of fertility and growth. Turns out, that totally applies here. Mariana, who has been waiting for a man we can assume was her lover, is unable to consummate her love. And when, in the fifth stanza, the shadow of the poplar falls on her bed (a place where romance is usually known to uh, bloom), she becomes even unhappier. The tree's shadow serves as a reminder of her lover's absence.
More evidence that the poplar is a symbol for romantic loneliness comes in stanza seven, where the poplar is "wooing" Mariana. That, too, annoys her. The poplar is a symbol of her loneliness and lack of love, and she doesn't like to be reminded of either—sniff.
Moss, weeds, and unkempt bits of nature invade the farmhouse at every turn. Overgrown nature imagery is one clue that no one has attempted to make things nice around here in a long, long time.
In the first stanza, the walls are rotting due to heavy moss and rust. It doesn't even seem like the walls are going to hold. Weeds have overgrown the latch to the gate, too:
Unlifted was the clinking latch;
Weeded and worn the ancient thatch
Upon the lonely moated grange. (6-8)
Clearly, no one has tried to get inside or outside in quite a while.
Tennyson uses nature in disrepair to signal to the reader that something isn't quite right with whoever is living in the farmhouse. And when we finally meet Mariana, we can see that the state of her farmhouse is also the state of her mind: overgrown with neglect and despair.
Night and day play huge roles in Mariana's life—and pretty similar ones, too.
In the second stanza, Mariana cries while the morning dew sits on the grass: "Her tears fell ere the dews were dried" (14). She's still crying when the sun comes out and dries it.
Normally, daylight and dew on the grass are positive associations, but Mariana is so sad that she can only feel her sorrow. Stanza three sees her wake at night and stay until daytime: "Without hope of change,/ In sleep she seem'd to walk forlorn" (29-30). Talk about dreary.
And then, the poem returns to night, and day again, and on and on. This cycle only serves as a symbol that emphasizes her loneliness and growing despair.
Neither night nor day offer any comfort to Mariana—bummer.
Think a dripping faucet is maddening? For Mariana, every noise is an annoyance and reminder of her despair.
In the third stanza, a night bird wakes her up ("she heard the night-fowl crow") (26). She doesn't go back to sleep. The next noise we hear is the crowing of the rooster, signaling daytime.
Then, the oxen start making noise and she realizes that, without "hope of change," every day would be like sleepwalking. And it isn't only outdoor noises that bother Mariana. In stanza six, the clock, the mouse in the wall, and the wind all serve to agitate her into despair. It is then that she starts to hear "old voices" calling to her from memory.
The final effect of all this noise imagery is that Tennyson's many noises may have finally driven her mad.
Mariana sits in a house that's surrounded by a moat, waiting for a man to come rescue her—sound familiar? Well, Shmoopers, that's where the fairy-tale parallels end.
In the epigraph, we find out who Mariana is: she's the jilted woman in Shakespeare's Measure for Measure, waiting in vain for her former love to return to her. And in the fourth stanza we see the "sluice with blacken'd waters" that sleeps around the abandoned farmhouse (38).
It's not exactly a romantic picture. The water is thick and black and hasn't moved for a long time (because nobody has been coming or going). By placing a moat and a missing man in a poem about heartbreak, though, Tennyson reminds us that not all love has a fairytale ending.
You know what we'd need to make this poem anything above a G rating? We'd need someone—really anyone—besides Mariana, a few mice, some memories, and a tree representing her isolation. And since the entire poem is based on her loneliness, it doesn't look like that will happen anytime soon. There is some good news, though. There's no need to cover your eyes with this one.