Essay 5: Explore the ways in which the poet vividly conveys the relationship between husband and wife in “Marrysong” by Dennis Scott.
An extended metaphor runs through the entire text, which compares the wife’s personality to a “territory”. The references to “geography”, “landscapes”, “country” and “roads” draw parallels between his wife’s mind and a physical, newly discovered land, which he must explore, as suggested by “charted” and “map”. In doing so, it evokes associations of mystery and bravery in facing the unknown – which seem entirely appropriate. However, there is quite a contrast between the images of a physical land, which we think of as being constant and natural, and the intellectual territory which “shifted under his eye”. This incongruity serves to make the description far more startling and surreal.
Not only does the lie of the land change, but the timescale on which thess shifts occurs also changes. In the first line, the poet states that the shifts occur “year after year”. Next, the time is shortened by a passing reference to “seasons”, then shrunk to “An hour”, becomes instantaneous – “suddenly she would change” – and then lengthens again to “each day”.
Overall, the poem is significantly lacking in fluency, an effect which is brought about by the repeated use of caesurae. Most lines are broken by pauses, denoted by commas, such as “that territory, without seasons, shifted” in line 2, and full stops, like “under his eye. An hour” in line 3. The sudden stutter of “All, all” is particularly effective in disrupting the flow built up in the previous line. The syntax is often awkward, in places like “learned her, quite” and “An hour he could be lost”. This slows down the reader and creates a sense of uncertainty, and thus the writing is made to mirror the subject matter.
Furthermore, the first five lines are heavily enjambed, while the last ones are not. As a result, there is a change of pace, from hesitant and unsure in the first section, to smooth and confident in the last. The enjambed lines discuss the details of the interactions between husband and wife, focusing on her inconstant moods, while the latter section is a generalised description of the changing nature of their relationship, saying that “all was each day new”. Thus, the shift in pace seems to suggest that the only certainty in this marriage is its capricious nature.
The phrase “her quarried hurt” stands out as the most ambiguous in the poem. Quarries have hard stone walls, and are a source of stone for building materials, making it possible to interpret the phrase as a reinforcement of the image of “walled anger”. However, it could also be seen as a counterpoint, due to the contrast between the expansive, open nature of a quarry, which is essentially a pit in the ground, and the confinement or shutting out implied in “walled”.
Alternatively, one might understand it as a suggestion that her hurt is not genuine, but rather something which has been artificially and deliberately dug up in order to create an effect. Yet another way to see it is to take it as a reference to “quarry”, prey which is being hunted. In this sense, the phrase would mean that the she, for some unknown reason, feels victimised and ill-treated, or that her hurt has driven her to attack her husband. Whatever the case, it is clear that this line exactly reflects the uncertainty which the husband feels, and is highly effective in giving the reader a first hand experience of it.
Later, the poet uses a series of staccato sentences: “He charted. She made wilderness again. Roads disappeared. The map was never true.” Their sharpness, and the sudden transition from the drawn-out, halting diction of the previous lines drives home their message. At this point in the poem, a sense of irritation has been built up by the repeated pauses, and the sudden burst of frustration in these two lines provides an emotional release for the reader, creating a climax at this point.
From here, the poem begins to wind down, and at “All, all” in line 11 enters its final stage.
Up to this point, there had been no rhyme or structure, making the poem abstract and ephemeral. This line, however, is end-stopped, giving a sense of closure, and forms a rhyming couplet with the next, as do the last two lines: “new…grew” and “find…mind”. The use of this common rhyme scheme creates a sense of solidity and familiarity even though it is not applied to every line. Furthermore, the poem takes on a satisfying fluency, especially in the lines “the shadows of…helpless journey”, which was previously absent.
In terms of content, this section summarises the nature of the marriage, then moves on to definite actions by the husband: “he accepted” and “stayed home”. The resignation in “accepted” ends the confusion and frustration from the previous lines, while the fact that he is taking some sort of action gives the sense of a resolution. In combination with the shift in tone to bring the poem to a natural close.
The effectiveness with which the interpersonal interactions are conveyed is, to a significant degree, due to the way Scott imbues the writing itself with the same attributes he is exploring. Through altering the pace, tone and fluency of the poem, he takes the reader on an emotional journey, evoking feelings of confusion, frustration and resignation which mirror those he conveys as being present in the relationship between husband and wife, and fosters further understanding by the consistent use of the metaphor of the land to great effect.