Explore how the poet of Marrysong expresses the varying shades of marriage and love.
‘Marrysong’ by Dennis Scott, is about a husband who is struggling to understand his wife: an abstruse, unpredictable woman whom he compares to territory. He tries to demarcate the lines of her, trying to find out what pleases her, but in this he fails and ends up being “lost in the walled anger of her quarried hurt”, or adversely “see cool water laughing where the day before there were stones in his voice.” Her anger and happiness are both short-lived and perplexing to the speaker. “Walled” implies restrictions and limits, a sense of confinement. This is exactly what he finds in his wife’s company. In contrast “cool water laughing” implies that water, flowing freely and without any limits delights him, just the way his wife does when she is in one of her better moods.
“Quarried hurt” relates to the “stones in her voice”; when quarrying implies digging and blasting out stones from a quarry, stones imply hardness, pain, and discomfort which are everything the speaker experiences.
The poem is an extended metaphor of “that territory” which “shifted under his eye” and no matter how hard he tried “The map was never true.” This sense of being lost, literally and metaphorically, is further emphasized when he says the “roads disappeared”. Roads and maps are associated with guidance, direction, purpose and all this the speaker is deprived of.
“Wind brought him rain sometimes, tasting of sea-”, the wind and sea both are metaphors of his wife and we see how in essential they are to the speaker, yet how deceiving they can be as they constantly change. She tastes like seawater, which implies bitterness, saltiness and unpleasantness, hard to digest for the human body. This in turn implies the pain she has caused the speaker. And all at once she can “suddenly” “change” to “faultlessly calm”.
The structure of Marrysong is designed in a manner that it attracts the reader’s attention till the very end with slow and heavy sounds and a particularly alluring rhyme and rhythm.
He tries to explore his spouse, in order to understand and predict her, but that too is rendered useless. She takes him by surprise each time when everything about her is “each day new”, this implying that although his wife, he “year after year” miserably fails in getting her. She changes each time to him, making “wilderness again”. The “shadows of her love shortened or grew” depicting how constant this process was and how helpless he is to try and grasp these shadows eternally.
This feeling of uncertainty and continuous thwarting at his plans leads to a despairing and complaining attitude. She, being a woman, is alluring and intriguing in the way that her whole persona changes over varying periods of time; it could be an hour or years.
“Year after year” the man’s struggle to understand his better half’s, his wife’s, complex mind is carried out. Eventually he accepts “that geography, constantly strange” as who his wife is. Thus although “he never learned her, quite”, his love for her is so strong that he “stayed at home increasingly to find his way among the landscapes of her mind”, accepting her unquestioningly, and here “home” implies familiarity, comfort, calmness for once.
Thus Marrysong is a touching portrayal of man’s vulnerability towards the woman whom he loves. He can never wholly understand her, this showing he can never wholly possess her. He can only surrender, accept defeat with understanding that the journey through the wilderness of marriage is a difficult one, only to be trekked upon by the willing.
Class of 2011