Textual Analysis Of Porphyria’s Lover By Robert Browning

June 23, 2022 by Essay Writer

Robert Browning during 1836 published the poem of “Porphyria’s lover” established during the period of romanticism. The poem was best known for the contradictory that it upheld against the context of the time. ‘The poem like much of Browning’s work conflates sexuality, love and insanity with the use of aesthetics; exploring the boundaries of sensuality in his work.’ This particular poem presents what one would say as a highly subjective perspective on a story, with browning’s message coming out ‘not through text but through the ironic disconnect of what the speaker justifies and what is obvious to the audience.’ Within this poem, the ‘irony is quite clear as the speaker has committed such a horrible act yet justifies it as not only acceptable but as to somewhat noble as well.’ Throughout this poem, the ‘imagery and ideas suggest an overarching conflict of order against chaos, with what can be seen as the most obvious manifestation being how the speaker presents his murder as an act of rationality and love.’ 

The form of this poem consciously reflects the overall mood of the poem that is successfully being delivered by the speaker to the reader. Even though the ‘cadence of the poem takes up natural speech, the actual rhythm of the poem is of a highly patterned verse; using an ABABB structure.’ The poetry follows an extremely ‘regular meter of iambic tetrameter (four iambic feet per line).’ This is expected from a Browning poem as he is known for his ‘conscious precise and meticulous poetry; here he has made it clear not to reflect madness or chaos in the rhyme scheme but to mirror the speaker’s beliefs that what he ends up doing is rational.’ The ‘intensity and asymmetry of this poem indicates the speaker’s madness and insanity concealed within him.’ Considering the form of the poetry, this particular poem by Browning is known to be a dramatic monologue, which is a fictional speech, but in this case, the monologue is used to ‘reflect on the self-presentation of the musings of the speaker further.’ This monologue like many of Browning’s ‘grasps the vital moments after the main events.’ Porphyria’s already is lying dead when the poem begins which is an indication that the poet used this to establish just like the speaker freezes time by killing Porphyria, ‘the poem seeks to freeze the consciousness in the instant.’

When observing the poem of “Porphyria’s lover” one can establish a sense of insanity arising from the main character and his passion of lust for his beloved Porphyria. The first stanza portrays a calm setting and tone to the overall poem. ‘It was evening, and the sun was about to set but it was raining.’ The wind is described as “Sullen”. This use of pathetic fallacy allows the reader to visualise the scene of this poem and develop a real feel for what it may have been like ‘whilst sensing the real gloominess of what the speaker is presenting.’ The use of ‘personification by the speaker creates a sense of hostility’ when stating the wind “was soon awake” and it then “tore the elm-tops down for spite”. The ‘wind wakes up and destroys its surroundings?’ Perhaps this is the speakers attempt to give the reader an overall impression of the poem and ultimately sets the tone for this poem. Here the ‘reader can start to relate to the speaker and their uneasy feelings who is experiencing the wrath of the wind on that rainy night.’

Following on to the second stanza of this poem, one can receive an insight into the speaker’s feelings now that the setting and tone have been put in place. Here we have been lured into the mind of the speaker.’ He elaborates that his “heart is fit to break” as he listens to the wind and rain outside of his door. Here there is a sudden shift in mood and tone for the reader when he describes the way Porphyria “glided in” and “shut out the cold and storm”. This gives the implication that her absence is the reason to why the speaker’s heart is breaking. This could also be a reference into the way she entered the speaker’s life and how she was the source of warmth and light for the speaker who perhaps used her as his main source of happiness. Therefore, when Porphyria was not around he felt much of an emptiness that as readers we can speculate that he wanted to fill the void. When the speaker describes how porphyria “builds a fire” and made “the cottage all warm”, this could be a reference as to what Porphyria did for the speaker’s soul. She was clearly his comfort figure and he idolised her placing her on a pedestal. However, one can also suggest that this act by Porphyria established the way she worshipped the speaker, as she did not allow the storm to deter her away.

Furthermore, when looking at lines 10 to 13, we start to see an implication of Porphyria completely giving herself to the speaker. This is evident where the speaker writes how she, “rose, and from her form she withdrew, and begins to shed her clothes”. The speaker gives the reader a full description of how Porphyria was “shedding of her clothes”, individually taking off garment pieces, which gives the impression of how intense the storm was and how much of herself she was willing to give. She was willing to brave the storm in order to get to him clearly providing evidence of emotion and love towards the speaker. In addition to this, lines 14 to 17 evidently continue to show Porphyria offering herself to the speaker completely. “She sat down by my side and called me”. It is unclear to the reader as to what this call may have meant but to respond to this the speaker does say he did not reply to her call, “no voice replied”. This indicates to the reader that the speaker is unsure of how to respond to her offer, however, one can say that she does not seem to be discouraged. When the speaker describes how Porphyria “put my arm around her waist” it is a high indication that she does has full confidence into the feelings the speaker does have for her. So with this in mind it is understandable as to why Porphyria is willing to fully give herself to him. Perhaps the speaker here does not respond to Porphyria as he is preoccupied with the thought that he is about to kill her.

As readers, we are next told that the unnamed speaker takes sensitive pleasure in bending over to have his cheek “lie there” over her “yellow hair”. The mental image that is descended from this is pretty powerful collaborating his romantic affection for Porphyria. The speaker in this instant, is doing more than run his cheek upon her yellow hair, he is literally bathing in her presence. This imagery alone that is created does not portend to madness. Also, the logic behind Porphyria’s death first beings to reveal itself within line twenty two, “too weak, for all her heart’s endeavour, to set it’s struggling passion free”. Here Browning is having the character of the speaker let the reader know that there is something wrong with Porphyria. She loves the speaker and perhaps wants to be sexually invested with him, “to set her heart’s struggling passion free”, however, she is too weak to do so. This suggests to the speaker that perhaps Porphyria’s weakness is of some duration is evident from the fact that, notwithstanding her condition, she in fact still at times did give herself sexually to the speaker regardless. This can be depicted from the phrase, “but passion sometimes would prevail”. It is evident that her weakness is caused by some illness because the speaker is jolted to reality with “a sudden thought of one so pale”. The use of the word “pale” is declared to be a fundamental diagnosis regarding an underlying medical condition.

Regarding Porphyria’s love for the speaker, browning then has the speaker mention his awareness of Porphyria’s love and how much she worships him thus deepening his love for her. “For love of her and all in vain”. The “love” that is being referred to here obviously belongs to the speaker, however, the reader is kept in the dark because the speaker has not elaborated as to why his love for her was “all in vain”? within this stanza the speaker states the Porphyria “murmured” her love for him. one can suggest that her social status may be much higher than the speaker and that perhaps society is against their love? We can speculate that this was Browning’s attempt to scorn at the Victorian society as in that era it was vital to only get married to someone from the same social class. This was deemed to be more acceptable however the unnamed speaker and Porphyria’s love derives from this view completely. Nonetheless, in this particular moment porphyria seems to be all the speakers as she left some fancy party in the storm because she couldn’t stand the thought of him being all alone sick of his love for her. Perhaps when the speaker does say his love was “all in vain” that he is making it clear to the reader that he has no confidence in the strength of her love when put up against societal norms, but porphyria’s love on this night do not suggest why their love is “all in vain”.

Continuing with the context of this poem, as Porphyria is described to be a rich lady of high social standing, while the speaker in his remote cabin is not. Porphyria chose on this night to escape the social order of the world and retreat into the chaos of the storm to quell her tumultuous feelings for this narrator. With this in mind when the speaker does realise this and that she “worshipped” him after all, he chooses to immortalise this moment by eradicating her ability to leave him by killing her. However, one can justify why the speaker had wanted to kill her to immortalise this love. Throughout Browning’s poem, the speaker is not given a name nor a gender which ultimately could suggest that the speaker is female and therefore the romantic relationship between the speaker and Porphyria is highly unacceptable in the eyes of the Victorian society. Homosexuality was frowned upon immensely during the Victorian era and many in those days that did come out were believed to have some sort of illness. Consequently, for the speaker this could only amount to killing Porphyria by “strangling” her with her own hair, in order to keep her in his life for ever as society would not dare allow this to happen.

To conclude, the overarching message of the poem is that human beings are full of contradictions. We are drawn to both the things we love and the things we despise which with doing so we are capable of rationalising either choice. However, in this poem the reader is invited by Browning to approve of the atrocity of the murder that took place by the speaker even though it may disgust an individual. For the murder itself one is also taught to forgive Porphyria for loving the speaker who is of lower class than her; something she would have been highly judged for. Overall, this poem really allows one to question both society and the individual effectively delivering an insight into Victorian society.


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