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Porphyria's Lover

Robert Browning’s Porphyria’s Lover is a poem that describes a nocturnal meeting between two lovers, and the somewhat skewed consummation of their love.  Similar to other poems by Browning, this poem outlined the aspects of insanity, jealousy, and the general psyche of a man who wished to own his lover, body and soul. The circumstances under which he takes her life leaves shock in the readers mind. In “Porphyria’s Lover,” we hear a narration of a man who realizes that the woman he loves finally loves him back without reserve to the point that she worships him, and preserves this moment of perfect amorous clarity by strangling her, and freezing her face in the expression of admiration and love. The most disturbing part of the entire narrative is that the lover/murderer feels no regret, no sense of loss, only a smug satisfaction that all is finally perfect, and that there are no signs from heaven that he has committed any wrongdoing.

Although the poem deals with murder, and the murder of a beautiful woman, Browning also attributes enough negative traits to Porphyria that the reader is not entirely offended at her sudden death. On the first glance, of the poem feels Porphyria to be an innocent angel, coming from a feast because she missed her lover, and wished to see him, traveling even through the terrible weather.  However, this seems not a surprise to the narrator, who perhaps is used to her acting on her whims.  Maybe the narrator is so used to her vagaries, that he takes no surprise at her sudden appearance on such a dreadful night.  This air of spontaneity is perhaps indicative of a woman who enjoys tormenting men, and certainly, the narrator feels so.  However, it is Porphyria’s adherence to social norms, her unwillingness in the past to allow herself to fall truly in love with him, that has the narrator in turmoil. 

From the onset, the poem swings into a descriptive nuance through imagery and symbolism. Like other poems by Browning, the calm with which the tone develops gives nothing away regarding the outcome. The use of symbols in the poem serves the purpose of creating suspense and interest among the readers. Marm (2010) posits that the unfavorable weather depicts the turmoil experienced by the lover when outside his abode. Consequently, the comfort provided by the warmth of lover symbolizes the escape from the ever increasing distraught which comes as the day progresses. The welcoming calm and warmth of the room captures the consideration of the reader, as it appears that Porphiria has reached nirvana. Although not depicted in the poem, we are propelled to draw a conclusion that the Porphyria is fond of sneaking into her lover’s dwelling every night. However, on that day the turmoil the need to see her lover set in earlier than usual.

The use of rhyme in the poem actuates the passion with which the writer expressed his theme. Surprisingly, browning manages to use an ABABB rhyme scheme (Marm, 2010). The rhyme scheme has aesthetic value in the poem being analyzed. The perfect and intricate rhyme scheme matches the characteristics of the poem as a whole. However, the intricate rhyme scheme compounds the meaning and flow of the poem and hardly presents itself as the main point of interest.

The writer is specific about the details of the setting in the poem. Even without critical reading, it is clear how the procession of events was during the night. Ross (2002) accentuates that the vivid description leaves the readers with a tangible picture of the scenario and outlines the themes of the poem. All events are described with detail and given ample outlines with link back to refresh the readers mind. For example, the writer outlines the features of the woman’s hair as a sign of beauty, the beauty that in the end contributes to her death.

The imagery also creates the clear picture of contrast and suspense. As observed, the outside is cold and unbecoming owing to the storm and rain. The woman has also escaped from the perceived loneliness in the outside to seek her lover’s embrace (Marm, 2010). However, the scenario is best described by the saying ‘out of the frying pan into the fire’. Instead of getting a warm welcome, her lover is reluctant to recognize her presence and does not respond to her beckoning. Contrary to what is expected, she does not struggle even in the height of asphyxiation. The heinous act deserves regret from the lover, as well as punishment from God, none of which happens.

The poem has maintains a calm tone throughout in spite of the progression into murderous plot. The narrator shocks and awes at the calmness of the tone in spite of the implications of the actions. As the poem progresses, the unswerving tone clearly explicates the outcome of the union of lovers which surprisingly turns tragic. Both the living and dead characters are portrayed as calm and collected. In death just as in life, the characters are tranquil.

The metaphor in the poem can be drawn from the theme of the poem. The idea of the poem can perhaps be attributed to events at the time.  According to Michael Mason, “aspects of the poem’s narrative resemble an 1818 account in Blackwood’s of a real life murder.  In Blackwood’s account, the murderer spoke about the snow white breasts, golden hair and dead blue eyes of his beloved.” (Ross)  The murderer quoted in Blackwood’s, also felt that he had done no wrong, and even insisted that his victim had felt no pain, even as he stabbed her repeatedly.  This is also a claim made by the narrator of Porphyria, “No pain felt she/ I am quite sure she felt no pain.” (Browning). He goes into a trance after seeing the pain and extend to which she was willing to go to in order to be with him.

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