When it was first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1851 this picture was accompanied by the following lines from Tennyson's Mariana (1830):
She only said, 'My life is dreary,
He cometh not,' she said;
She said, 'I am aweary, aweary,
I would that I were dead!'
Tennyson's poem was inspired by the character of Mariana in Shakespeare's Measure for Measure. Rejected by her fiancé, Angelo, after her dowry was lost in a shipwreck, she leads a lonely existence in a moated grange. She is still in love with Angelo - now Deputy to the Duke of Vienna - and longs to be reunited with him.
In the picture the autumn leaves scattered on the ground mark the passage of time. Mariana has been working at some embroidery and pauses to stretch her back. Her longing for Angelo is suggested by her pose and the needle thrust fiercely into her embroidery. The stained-glass windows in front of her show the Annunciation, contrasting the Virgin's fulfilment with Mariana's frustration and longing. Millais copied the scene from the window of the Chapel of Merton College, Oxford. However, the heraldic design appears to have been his own invention. The motto 'In coelo quies' means 'In Heaven there is rest' and clearly refers to Mariana's desire to be dead…