Alfred Tennyson, a well-known Victorian poet, published his poem “Mariana” ( in 1830. The poem was printed in one of his early collections titled Poems, Chiefly Lyrical. This was Tennyson’s second publication, but his fist publication featuring exclusively his poetry. It was predated by Poems, By Two Brothers, featuring poetry from both Tennyson and his brother Charles,in 1827 and he had numerous publications that would follow, including his most famous, In Memoriam (1850) (Victorian Web). Mariana has been described as “…the most subtle and complex poem appearing in [the collection]” (Gunter 64). Mariana falls into the genre of lyrical poetry, although it also contains elements of narrative and the dramatic monologue. The poem contains the elements of emotional expression that are conventional in lyric poetry; however the emotional expression is conveyed through what Boyd and Williams describe as “third-person lyric” (Boyd and Williams 582). Through a third person narrator, Mariana’s consciousness is brought to life and readers are given a portal into her melancholy state and the deteriorating world around her.

A common theme in Tennyson’s poems is that of isolation, and “Mariana” is no exception. In the poem, an unnamed woman, presumably Mariana is longing for the return of her lover. This longing is told from an observer’s point of view. Not only does Mariana not tell her own story, the name Mariana isn’t mentioned in the poem, thus taking away her individuality. The speaker watches Mariana go through this emotional journey. The speaker describes Mariana’s inability to connect to both the man she is waiting on and the larger society. Tennyson uses the poplar tree as a pathetic fallacy (the attribution of human emotion or responses to animals or inanimate things (OED)) to emphasize Mariana’s isolation:

“Hard by a poplar shook away,
All silver-green with gnarled bark:
For leagues no other tree did mark
The level waste, the rounding gray” (Tennyson 41-44).

In addition to this technique, Tennyson creates a dark atmosphere by using colour imagery and descriptions of broken objects, making the physical space where the poem takes place match the speaker’s observations of Mariana’s experience. This imagery accentuates that the room where Mariana is pacing is very dark, taking away her ability to see the world outside the room she is trapped in. Examples include: “With the blackest moss the flower pots…” (1) and “The broken sheds looked sad and strange” (5). The material an psychological decay apparent in this poem complement and accentuate one another (Gunter 64). Additionally, Tennyson creates a silent atmosphere, with the exception of Mariana’s refrain:

“”My life is dreary,
He cometh not,” she said;
She said, “I am aweary, aweary,
I would that I were dead!”” (Tennyson 9-12).

The darkness and silence both play into the idea that Mariana is isolated from the rest of the world. Due to her isolation, Mariana wishes for the company of other people. Her refrain varies slightly in the last stanza, where Mariana accepts that her lover will not arrive: “”I am very dreary,/ He will not come,/… I am aweary, aweary,/ Oh God, that I were dead!” (Tennyson 45-48).

The premise of “Mariana” originates from William Shakespeare’s play, Measure for Measure. Shakespeare’s character, Mariana, is rejected by Angelo, the man she loves, causing her to isolate herself from her social circle while waiting for him to return to her. However, in Tennyson’s recollection of this event, Mariana’s lover does not return to her. It was not only Tennyson who recreated this Shakespearian scene. The initial inspiration for the poem came from the line in Measure for Measure “Mariana in the moated gorge”. This line refers to Mariana’s longing and despair while waiting for Angelo to return (Stevenson 235).

W. E. F. Britten- Mariana

Furthermore, other artist created works in response to Tennyson’s “Mariana”. William Morris’s poem “Golden Wings” is often seen as a poetic response
to the sentimentality of “Mariana”. In Morris’s poem, the speaker longs to gain her golden wings, just as Tennyson’s Mariana longs for the return of her
lover. According to Benjiman A. Saltzman, both women have lived similar lives and are experiencing loneliness (Saltzman 285). Stephen Derry suggests that there are also links between “Mariana” and Philip Larkin’s “The Whitshun Weddings.” Larkin’s connection is made through the poplar trees; however, while Tennyson uses the trees as a symbol of stasis, Larkin uses them as a symbol of change (Derry 448). Tenyson’s poem reads “the shadow of the poplar fell/ Upon her bed, across her brow” (Tennyson 55-56), while Larkin’s poem echos “poplars cast/ long shadows over major roads” (Larkin quoted in Derry 448). Likewise, visual artists painted their interpretations of Mariana awaiting her lover. John Everett Millais and W. E. F. Britten both interpreted Tennyson’s poem in their own works. W.E.F. Britten’s version of Mariana depicts the physical darkness and Mariana’s longing despair while waiting for her lover.

John Everett Millais- Mariana

John Everett Millais also created a visual depiction of Mariana. Millais’s work was painted as a response toShakespeare’s Mariana; however, when the painting was first displayed, it was accompanied by the refrain from Tennyson’s poem. Tennyson’s colour imagery is perpetuated in Millias’s painting due to his contrast of bright and dark colours.

In 1832, Tennyson published a sequel to “Mariana” titled “Mariana in the South”, but it was less popular than the original poem. “Mariana in the South” echoed the themes and stylistic features of “Mariana”, including the theme of isolation and a refrain emphasizing Mariana’s feelings of aloneness (Stevenson 236).

Works Cited

"pathetic, adj. and adv.". OED Online. December 2014. Oxford University Press. (accessed February 02, 2015).

"Alfred Tennyson "Mariana"" The Broadview Anthology of Victorian Poetry and Poetic Theory. Ed. Thomas J. Collins and Vivienne Rundle. Peterborough, Ont.: Broadview, 1999. 156-57. Print.

"Alfred Lord Tennyson: Writings." Alfred Lord Tennyson: Writings. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Feb. 2015. <>.

Boyd, John D., and Anne Williams. "Tennyson's Mariana And Lyric Perspective." Studies In English Literature 1500-1900 23.(1983): 579-593. Humanities Abstracts (H.W. Wilson). Web. 2 Feb. 2015.

Derry, Stephen. "Tennyson's ‘Mariana’ And Larkin's ‘The Whitsun Weddings’." Notes & Queries 43.(1996): 447-448. Humanities Abstracts (H.W. Wilson). Web. 4 Feb. 2015.

Gunter, G. O. "Life and Death Symbols in Tennyson's "Mariana"" South Atlantic Bulletin 36.3 (1971): 64-67. JSTOR. Web. 04 Feb. 2015.

Ricks, Christopher. “Tennyson, Alfred, first Baron Tennyson (1809–1892).” Christopher Ricks Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford: OUP, 2004. Online ed. Ed. Lawrence Goldman. May 2006. 2 Feb. 2015

Saltzman, Benjamin A. "William Morris' “Golden Wings” As A Poetic Response To The “Delicate Sentiment” Of Tennyson's “Mariana”." Victorian Poetry 49.3 (2011): 285-299. Humanities Abstracts (H.W. Wilson). Web. 4 Feb. 2015.