Analysis of Robert Browning Porphyria’s Lover: Literary Tools Used to Create the Unique Creepy Tone of the Poem

June 7, 2022 by Essay Writer

During the Victorian Period, British society ultimately revolved around gender and class.

Men were independent and active members of society while women were limited to the private sphere. Low-income families were at the bottom of society while middle and upper-class families were respected. Also, readers generally preferred poems about love and beauty. Robert Browning, an English poet known for his dark poems critiquing Victorian society, received little recognition during his lifetime. However, his works have since become renowned as some of the most thrilling and disturbing poetry ever to be made. In “Porphyria’s Lover,” Browning utilizes dramatic monologue and both rhyme and meter in order to create a sense of creepiness and macabre.

Written in the speaker’s twisted point of view and with the speaker’s unexpected set of motives, Browning constructs this poem in the form of a dramatic monologue in order to give the reader insight into the disturbing mind of the psychotic speaker. Placing the reader in an uncomfortable position of reading the thoughts of a madman, his tone is surprisingly reasonable and awfully straightforward. As the story within the poem unfolds, the speaker reveals more and more about his inner thoughts and desires. The effect of his calm, deadly actions is unnerving as a result of this perspective into his train of thought. Although committing atrocities such as strangingling his lover and availing himself of her corpse, it is almost difficult to realize the speaker is in fact insane because of his surprisingly smooth and matter-of-fact speech. His insanity is also seemingly incongruous with his ability to ‘logically’ justify his untenable actions. He asserts multiple times that “she felt no pain” and that dying was both her “utmost will” and “darling one wish” (lines 41, 42, 53, 57). This juxtaposition of rational diction and intelligence with homicide and necrophilia leaves the reader to conclude that the speaker is not just a madman but a calculating madman—one who feels content and justified to manipulate and murder. He doesn’t think he’s done anything wrong, and that is part of what makes him so terrifying.

In addition to composing “Porphyria’s Lover” so that the reader can peer into the mind of the speaker, Browning also relies upon rhythm and meter in order to convey an eerie and macabre sentiment. The poem follows the meter of iambic tetrameter. This choice creates a feeling of momentum in each stanza which marches through the work’s unsettling atmosphere. [add evidence] This is also a highly rhythmic poem; the rhythm lulls the reader into a sense of complacency. Moreover, the beginning content of the story is pleasant: two lovers cuddle near a fire while it storms outside—an image reminiscent of tender, romantic literature. When combined with the Browning’s steady use of rhythm, these circumstances leave the reader unsuspecting but curious. Once this is accomplished, Browning then shocks the reader with the wicked asphyxiation of Porphyria—all without shifting the sound of the poem, proceeding as if nothing out of the ordinary transpires. In this way, meter and rhythm are relied upon to provoke a horrified eeriness in the mind of the reader.

By presenting the poem in the form of a dramatic monologue and by constructing the meter and rhyme so that the reader is first disarmed and then perturbed, Browning succeeds in creating a theme of chilling, intense macabre. Through this work, the reader experiences the cognitive dissonance of psychopathy and as well as the terrifying capacity for evil of a calculating madman. As a result of these literary elements, “Porphyria’s Lover” earns its chilling and disturbing effect.


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