Study Guide

Mariana Sound Check

By Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Sound Check

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.

For example:

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.

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