MarrySong by Dennis Scott

Marrysong by Dennis Scott

(All notes, except the poem itself, are copyright of The Arts & Humanities Tuition Services.)

He never learned her, quite . Year after year
that territory, without seasons, shifted
under his eye. An hour he could be lost
in the walled anger of her quarried hurt
on turning, see cool water laughing where
the day before there were stones in her voice.
He charted.1 She made wilderness again.
Roads disappeared. The map was never true.
Wind brought him rain sometimes, tasting of sea—
and suddenly she would change the shape of shores
faultlessly calm. All, all was each day new;
the shadows of her love shortened or grew
like trees seen from an unexpected hill,
new country at each jaunty helpless journey.
So he accepted that geography, constantly strange.
Wondered. Stayed home increasingly to find
his way among the landscapes of her mind .

The narrator is talking about the issues of marriage, and how one has to be aware of the changes that one’s partner goes through. Instead of being idealistic in depicting the marriage (happily ever after!), the narrator constantly reveals to us how this is flawed: by doing so, he reveals to us how we tend to overlook the realistic parts of marriage, as well as ignore the woman’s development in marriage.

Context: Published in 1989, MarrySong challenges the perspective of the happily-ever after marriage through positioning the female as priority. At this point of time, there was growing awareness of global female rights, and increasingly larger number of women were demanding greater satisfaction from their marriage from myopic males.

Thematic Concerns: Marriage, The Need for Changing Perspectives, Understanding in Relationships, The Human Psyche

Line by Line Analysis

He never learned her, quite – The idea of not knowing a person fully in a marriage contrasts against conventional notions of marriage: this romanticises the idea of knowing a person inside out before marrying them.

Year after year
that territory, without seasons, shifted
under his eye

The idea of “year after year” suggests an extended period of time, which shows how long this person’s marriage has lasted.

“territory, without seasons”: Usually, we have spring, summer, autumn and winter. However, to not have such “seasons” indicates that it is difficult to tell when things are changing. Subsequently, it is difficult for the man to know as to when his wife is changing in terms of character, forcing him to be even more observant. The idea of “territory” suggests how she is her own person, with her own individual character, which has great depth and potential to grow.

While we do have warnings given for seasons changing (e.g. snow falling when winter approaches), such is not the case in marriage with partners. One has to be extremely observant and pay attention to one’s spouse.

Even though the man is observing his wife’s character closely, it still “shifted under his eye”. This indicates that it is easy to miss if you are not paying attention.

An hour he could be lost
in the walled anger of her quarried hurt
on turning, see cool water laughing where
the day before there were stones in her voice

“An hour he could be lost in the walled anger of her quarried hurt” – at any one moment, for a short period of time, he could be facing her anger/frustration. The diction of “walled” suggests that she may have closed herself off from him out of anger, suggesting dissatisfaction on her part with the marriage. As marriage is an institution in which one must constantly communicate, this reveals how it is easier said than done to do so.

The references/allusions towards hard objects/materials like “walled” and “quarried” further reinforce the amount that she has closed up from him.

Enjambment – run-on sentence. In this case, we see the run-on sentence emphasising the smooth transition between frustration and happiness for the woman, indicating how quickly she loses her anger.

Natural imagery is also utilised here with “cool water” and “stones in her voice”. Auditory imagery is used over here to show how unpleasant her voice was when they were fighting the day before. This unpleasantness is contrasted against the personification of the “cool water laughing”, which suggests that the woman’s character is fluid: she cannot be defined in any one way by the man. Just like water which cannot be grabbed and controlled indefinitely, the woman’s character is free in terms of expressing her emotions.

He charted.1 She made wilderness again.
Roads disappeared. The map was never true.

“He charted…the map was never true” – Humans usually chart in their navigations, when they are detailing down the paths that they have taken. This reveals his attempt to understand his wife by constantly attempting to see what pleases her/makes her upset. The word “never” tells us that this map of trying to understand his wife constantly fails him, and misdirects him.

The phrase “roads disappeared” is a reference to the man-made invention of “roads”. This suggests that “man-made” ways are unnatural in a marriage, and this idea is further highlighted by the use of natural imagery to describe the woman.

However, “she made wilderness again”, which suggests that she is constantly changing. By extension, the things that please her/displease her are always changing too, rendering his attempts futile. The diction of “wilderness” suggests the lost state of the man when it comes to navigating his marriage through his lens of attempting to have things a certain way/do things a certain way. This reveals the masculine tendency of trying to have control over everything that they are involved in, which the poet is critical about.

Wind brought him rain sometimes, tasting of sea—and suddenly she would change the shape of shores faultlessly calm

Weather is used to describe the emotions that he faces during marriage: “rain..tasting of sea” suggests a salty taste, and subsequently, gustatory imagery.

The sea symbolises instability, being unsteady, rocking, whereas the “shores” represent land, which is sturdy, and firm.

However, the suddenness in change of her behaviour is accentuated with the word “suddenly”. The changing of the “shape of shores” suggests that the woman has the ability to not only change her emotions, but to also change what the man is experiencing. This suggests to us how two people who are in a marriage are more intricately linked than we think.

“faultlessly calm” – for her, this change does not seem to be such a big thing, whereas for him, it seems to affect him quite abit, because it is unexpected for him.

All, all was each day new;
the shadows of her love shortened or grew
like trees seen from an unexpected hill,
new country at each jaunty helpless journey

Repetition of “all” – suggests to us how much changes daily in the marriage of this man and woman. It is also a reminder to not take the changes in marriage lightly, because this can cause the marriage to stagnate.

“shadows of her love shortened or grew” – she is unexpectedly cutting her love or giving more love. The diction of “shadows” emphasises how these emotions are intangible for the man to grasp, and that he cannot hope to understand them with his current non-accepting attitude.

Simile of “like trees seen from an unexpected hill” – reveals to us the everchanging landscape of their marriage.

It is a “new country at each jaunty helpless journey”: reveals to us how marriage is a journey, rather than a milestone. One should not stop exploring this “new country”, and should be more flexible in accepting new perspectives of one’s spouse in marriage.

It is also a lesson regarding how when one is marrying another person, they are not only marrying their present self, but their future selves as well.

So he accepted that geography, constantly strange.
Wondered. Stayed home increasingly to find
his way among the landscapes of her mind.

Only upon having “accepted that geography” is the man able to start understanding his wife and appreciating her more.

“constantly strange” – tells us how diverse and complex his wife’s character is, ONLY when he starts to pay attention to her.

Short syntax of “wondered” -sudden, short abrupt sentence indicates a change in mind, before making up his mind by staying “home increasingly”.

“find his way among the landscapes of her mind” – “landscapes” suggest to us the different ways in which the woman’s mind can operate, and how important it is for the man to keep his marriage going by understanding her.

“stayed home increasingly” – home is commonly associated with the domestic space, which has long been associated with females. By staying home more often, the man is not afraid to break the conventional associations of women being at home, and in fact, begins to join her as well.

Tone of this poem, while depicting the confusing state of the man at first, eventually depicts him as determined to understand his wife, in her own way.

Model Answer
Study Question: How does the narrator depict marriage within a couple in this poem?

The narrator conveys marriage through the ever constant changing of the mood in your partner. He utilises a metaphor in the phrase ‘He charted, She made wilderness again’ to compare the man to an adventurer that is travelling a great path which constantly changes. This is compared to the mood of the wife where the husband might think he has made progress in understanding her but fails to do so. Once again. the writer employs a metaphor in the phrase ‘and suddenly she would change the shape of the shores’ to compare the shores to her mood, which is rocky and wobbly, bobbing up and down having its highs and lows.

The writer depicts marriage through the adventure of the man, as he tries to understand his wife more and more daily. He employs repetition in the phrase “year after year” to depict that the husband has constantly been trying to understand his wife more and more but it usually ends with no luck. He compares the wife to ‘that territory, without season’ to depict his wife as a troublesome land to venture, with no indication or warning for what is to come and can only be predicted with observant skills which is tiring.
Between a couple, the key to maintaining a great relationship is through the understanding of each others emotions and how they feel. However, the narrator conveys the wifes emotions as constantly changing which makes it a tedious task for the husband to identify

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