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The Dreariness of Lord Alfred Tennyson's "Mariana: An Analysis

Updated on September 26, 2013

In Lord Alfred Tennyson’s poem “Mariana”, Mariana is dejected. She has been waiting for a rendezvous with her lover whom never arrived. Mariana states, “My life is dreary,/ He cometh not.” She seems to base her view of herself and her life on the actions of the absent man. She is overwhelmed with emotion as “her tears fell with the dews.” Mariana also has a negative view of her surroundings, “the lonely moated grange” and “broken sheds” which “looked sad and strange”. Mariana’s perceptions of her surroundings are skewed by her emotions to the point that “She could not look on the sweet heaven.” Mariana is concentrating on the negative rather than the positive by refusing to acknowledge the beauty of the sky.

Several stanzas of the poem end with Mariana saying, “I am aweary, aweary,/ I would that I were dead!” She is displaying destructive thinking patterns. Her thoughts are based on her depressed mood. Yet, Mariana does not recognize this in herself. Instead, she has no “hope of change” which may be for her current situation with her lover, herself, or both. As a woman, Mariana has become Mary Wollstonecraft’s description of women. Women “become the prey of their senses, delicately termed sensibility, and are blown about by every momentary gust of feeling.” Mariana is currently in this type of situation.

Mariana may also be living out a self-fulfilling prophecy. She is in a weak, pathetic state of mind. Wollstonecraft said, “Weakness may excite tenderness, and gratify the arrogant pride of man.” Mariana may have been acting weak to secure her lover only to find that in the end she had become weak. Wollstonecraft stated, “Women are told from their infancy, and taught by the example of their mothers, that a little knowledge of human weakness, justly termed cunning, softness of temper, outward obedience, and a scrupulous attention to a puerile kind of propriety, will obtain for them the protection of man. Mariana may feel that she needs the protection of her lover, and she had attempted to gain it by feigning weakness.

Why is Mariana weary? She may feel that she is no longer able to endure life without the protection of her lover, or she may be jaded that her feigned weakness has not gained her the results she desired. Perhaps, she is tired of her heart’s suffering. Maybe, she is merely tired of waiting for her lover. Yet, she wishes for death. She desires an escape from whatever is causing her weariness. Yet, her desire for death reflects a weakness in her character as well. S he lacks the tenacity needed to endure life. Wollstonecraft would probably argue that Mariana’s problem is a lack of proper education. If Mariana were taught to think and act rationally rather than emotionally, she might be able to lift her own mood and move on with her life. Instead, Mariana simply remains at the grange brooding.

Mariana could look to the poplar and see that it is tall, strong, and independent which contrasts the speaker’s commenting that it was a lone tree. The speaker asserts, “For leagues no other tree did mark.” Even in her distress, Mariana is not alone. The poplar tree is with her even in the farmhouse as “The shadow of the poplar fell/ Upon her bed, across her brow.” It is almost as if the tree’s shadow were reaching out to her, to lift her eyes to see it. Yet, she dismisses it. In the last stanza, the speaker states, “and the sound/ Which to the wooing wind aloof/ The poplar made, did all confound/ Her sense.” The wind is as aloof to the sound of the poplar as Mariana is, but the poplar confounds her. It may be that Mariana is simply confused by the poplar, or it may be that the poplar is refuting her weakness in becoming so enveloped in her emotions and dependent on her lover. Yet, the poplar might make Mariana feel ashamed of her behavior which is why she ends up crying out to God. At the same time, it is “Her sense” which is confounded. The poplar may go against the grain of her own understanding of what she should be as a woman.


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