The poem begins by describing an aged thorn that has been surrounded by mosses over time. The thorn is located on a mountain top next to a muddy hill. A woman named Martha Ray comes to visit the hill and cries "Oh misery! Oh misery! Oh woe is me! Oh misery!" The woman's back-story is revealed by the narrator. The narrator describes the woman as being in love with a man called Stephan Hill, who left her for another woman.
Martha Ray has become pregnant with his child sixth months later and the fate of the child is left unambiguous. The mountainous heap described could symbolize a gravestone, thus suggesting the baby has died. This explains why she would be miserable. The rose itself could be a symbol of a lost life, beautiful but it has been hidden away. Perhaps Martha killed the baby due to the social stigma of an unmarried pregnant woman. There are a lot of ambiguous connotations that are left.