Close Reading of “Mariana” by Tennyson

Topics: Poems

Close Reading of “Mariana” by Tennyson “Mariana” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson stands as one of his most well-known and greatest poems. This poem speaks of Mariana, from Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, and Mariana has been isolated in a grange waiting for her lover to come to her. She speaks at the end of each stanza saying, “He cometh not”, speaking of Angelo (10), but one of the most notable aspects of this poem is that Mariana is not going to him.

In the first stanza of “Mariana”, Tennyson writes that the nails have rusted and fallen from their places in the wood where they once held a pear, and the latch to the gate is “unlifted” instead of uplifted as if someone were opening the gate (6).

These two descriptions, along with the others in this stanza, show the reader that Mariana has been in this grange for a long time. Time has passed for Mariana before the poem even begins. Upon first read, a reader might conclude that Angelo will not come for Mariana; however, a closer look at the poem reveals that Mariana isn’t leaving the grange to run to Angelo either.

The latch hasn’t been touched by either person. Mariana cries morning and evening tells the second stanza of this poem. Tennyson explains that she cries “with the dews at even” and when “the dews were dried” (13-14).

Mariana Montgomery 2 pines after her lover, wanting him to come to her. The next lines tell the reader that Mariana couldn’t even watch the sunset or sunrise.

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She could take no joy in the beautiful things of life she was so miserable. She goes to bed long after dark, and then She only said, “The night is dreary, He cometh not,” she said; She said, “I am aweary, aweary, I would that I were dead! (21-24)” In the next stanza, Mariana states that the day is also dreary (33). Every moment of every day was miserable for this young woman because the one she loved would not come to her. She is miserable because she is concluding that he might not come to her, but she never thinks about what would happen if she left to go to him. Being a proper lady meant that Mariana couldn’t show public affection for the man she was once betrothed to especially if he has feelings for another woman, which, in the case of Measure for Measure, Angelo did. It would have been considered inappropriate for Mariana to go running after Angelo if he had feelings for another woman.

Marian could have been called an adulteress for something like that. Mariana is isolated from the outside world, and popular opinion would be that she cannot leave the grange at all; that she is stuck within the grange walls. Line 62 says, “the doors upon their hinges creaked,” meaning the door to the grange had the possibility of being opened. Tennyson never specifies as to whether or not the door could only open one way. Later the stanza goes Montgomery 3 Old faces glimmered through the doors, Old footsteps trod the upper floors, Old voices called her from without (66-8). While this is the part of the poem where Mariana begins to go insane, these lines demonstrate that Mariana could have left if she wanted to. The faces, footsteps, and voices are called old because they are her memories from her past, but the doors of the grange open; she can hear and see things from the outside world.

Tennyson never specifically states in this poem that Mariana is forbidden to leave the grange, even with the moat surrounding it. The argument of whether Mariana could have left the grange is a stretch for the poem; however, Tennyson does not end the poem in her death or her marriage. The ending is left to the interpretation of the reader. The last line says, “Oh, God, that I were dead! (84). Mariana wanted to die. Depressed and isolated as she was, she concluded that if Angelo would not come to her as her lover then she would most likely die waiting for him. But that is where the poem stops. Tennyson leaves it there. The reader must decide if they want to use the epigraph about this poem being taken from Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure to come to their own conclusions. Some readers may choose not to let that influence their interpretation. “Mariana” by Tennyson is one of those rare poems that leaves the door open for the reader to explore the possibilities that could have been. Mariana could have decided to leave the grange to go after the one she loved; that is possible, but she stayed in the grange to live in depression and wish that she were dead. Readers will not know for sure if the Mariana of Tennyson’s poem found the love she desperately wanted.

Works Cited

  1. Tennyson, Lord Alfred. “Mariana” The Norton Anthology of English Literature, edited by Stephen Greenblatt, Vol. E, 9th ed., W.W. Norton & Company, 2012, pp. 1159-1161.

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Close Reading of “Mariana” by Tennyson. (2022, May 13). Retrieved from

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