In the two poems ‘My Last Duchess’ and ‘Porphyria’s Lover’, Robert Browning portrays two very different stories both being about murder. The way that Browning presents these poems with such expression and forcefulness makes it seem like he is just reliving the moment in the form of poetry, as if he is the killer himself. The two main important differences with these two poems are how the murder is talked about.
My Last Duchess’ is written after the murder has happened in which Browning reflects on the Dukes feelings towards the Duchess; whereas in ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ the poem is written at the time of the murder where we get more of an insight on the mans thoughts and feelings as it is written in first person. What we understand from both poems is that both of the male characters conducting the murders are abnormally overly obsessed with two things most people wouldn’t consider perfection and power, and in the cases of the poems these two things are put together with relationships with women.
In ‘Porphyria’s Lover’, is about a man who kills a women who he believes he is destined to be with, but it the way Browning presents the relationship between them is as if their relationship would only work if the woman was dead; because he would only see her as perfect if she was dead, and he becomes even more obsessed with her as he slowly kills her by strangling her with her hair. In the other poem, ‘My Last Duchess’, the Duke is talking about his Duchess who he had killed, and during the poem, he explains to the reader about his point of view towards her after showing the painting off.
The Duke in this poem is obsessed with power, and probably with himself too. He was in fear of his power being taken from him because his last Duchess was so changeling towards him; even though she didn’t realise it. The Duke seemed to show that he wanted to have the girl to himself and no one else to even look at her in such a way that they may even be thinking about becoming involved with her and taking his power away at the same time. We see this when the Duke explains that ‘her looks went everywhere’, showing that she probably had power, and the Duke didn’t like that.
It also informs us that the Duke was a jealous man as people admired something of his that in a sense, he couldn’t control; but the first line, ‘That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall’, makes us feel like the Duke only saw her as an object he owned which he likes to now gloat upon because she isn’t there anymore. This would mean that the Duke could make her out to be perfect and boast about how she belongs to him. Browning represents how powerful the Duke is when he explains about the curtains, ‘since none puts by the curtain I have drawn for you but I,’ to be able to see the painting of his last duchess.
This line represents the power that the Duke holds as we imagine him sounding proud of himself. It also informs us that he is the only one to be able to draw the curtain and as the line ‘And seemed they would ask me, if they durst,’ convinces us that people are even scared to ask him to draw the curtains to see the painting; putting them in fear of the amount of power the Duke holds because they know that he is capable of doing anything to them. It’s almost as if if anyone pulls the curtains back to see the painting, the same thing would happen to them.
Browning demonstrates the level of the Dukes power and confidence at the line ‘She had a heart… how to say… too soon may glad’. The use of pauses here gives us a feeling that the Duke is gloating on the amount of power he holds by trying to sound more innocent than he thinks he is. Although both of the male characters in the poems are power obsessed, the Duke in ‘My Last Duchess’ knows how much power he holds, but the guy in ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ in theory, doesn’t know how much power he really has until he kills the woman.
We can tell this because before he kills her she seems to be controlling him when Browning describes as ‘she put my arm about her waist,’ and ‘stooping, make my cheek lie there’; showing that he felt like an object being act upon as if he was a dummy and couldn’t do anything for himself. However, this all changes once Porphyria’s is murdered and we see this when the guy notes how he ‘propp’d her head up as before’ showing that he is now the one in control and it appears that he has now become ‘alive’ and becomes the active whereas Porphyria’s is now the passive.
The guy in this poem comes across as proud and we can demonstrate this when he tells the reader ‘Porphyria worshipp’d me,’; which is almost as if he should be looked up to like some sort of God and only sees things in his point of view. This is also demonstrated at the very end of the poem, ‘And yet God has not said a word! ‘ This signals that he really truly believes that he is in the right. Browning also may have used this line as a symbol to say that if there really was a God, he would have done something to the guy as a punishment, but nothing has been done.
This leads on to say that neither of the men in the poems think they’ve done anything wrong and appear to have no remorse what so ever for the crimes they have committed; and we see this all through ‘My Last Duchess’ as we imagine him as being proud of himself all through the poem. Even though he is proud of himself the reader doesn’t see him this way; and it is ironic because this poem is written in heroic couplets (AABB) but he is not heroic in any way; only in his own mind.
Porphyria’s Lover’ is written in octosyllabic lines, and because it’s in an ABABB rhyme form, it symbolises the unbalanced state of mind of the man and because this poem is written in first person. Therefore the reader feels more involved as it increases the dramatic effect. The verse structure in both the poems are the same, both not having any verses; and because of this there is no break from the tension Browning builds in them, especially in ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ as it leads up to the murder itself. In ‘My Last Duchess’ there are pauses and punctuation used to break up parts and it seems to become more frequent towards the end of the poem.
This could represent how the Duke is talking; in short and snappy sentences as if he is getting agitated and worked up by what he is saying; ‘Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands; Then all the smiles stopped together. There she stands as if alive’. This is a particularly interesting part of the poem as it gives away that the Duke had the Duchess killed and because of the amount of pauses Browning used at that part, it lets the Duke have a chance to deliver the tension and anxiety of the story he appears to be feeling across to the reader.
During these parts in the poem, the reader might get the feeling that the Duke is hiding something as his speech seems so rushed. In both poems Browning frequently uses enjambment to increase the dramatic effect and obstruct the flow of the poems. This is a good technique as it shows the unbalanced and megalomania personalities of the two male characters as it rushes on and pushes the poem forwards in a crazed way; possibly just like their minds are working. A good demonstration of this appears in ‘Porphyria’s Lover’; ‘And I untighten’d next the tress About her neck; her cheek once more Blush’d bright beneath my burning kiss,’.
Both poems are written as a dramatic monologue, and are both narrated by males both with issues with women and love and show similarities; one of which being that the only way either of them could handle their situations with their lovers was to murder them and neither of them seemed to feel any shame. They are looked to as both being troubled and megalomaniacs by the reader. A couple of bold differences between the to male characters is that the guy in ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ radiates a feel to him that he isn’t a high class, rich man like the Duke in ‘My Last Duchess’; and if anything, he is far from it.
The Duke seems to be an attention seeker, especially because of his social status. This is probably what led him to kill his Duchess as he explains how she was ‘Too easily impressed; she liked whate’er She looked on, and her looks went everywhere’; symbolising that she attracted a lot of attention; much more than the Duke wanted her to. But in ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ it’s the guys feelings towards Porphyria that become so strong and unable to control, which leads him to murder her to have her forever.
We see that he is overly obsessed with Porphyria when he leads himself to think, ‘at last I knew Porphyria worshipp’d me,’ when really the reader knows that this isn’t the case, and the reader continues to see the increasingly unbalanced state of the man that Browning portrays. In this poem there are many metaphors and it’s full with personification. An example of this is when Browning explains to us about how the ‘sullen wind was soon awake’, as we get to know that there is a storm outside.
As we progress through the poem we come to understand that the storm could symbolize the storm in the guys head. Browning also uses alliteration a great deal throughout the poem, so much that this also symbolises how much of a mad and unbalanced mind this guy has. For example, we see this alliteration when he is explaining how Porphyria ‘Blushed bright beneath my burning kiss’ and he tries to make it seem as if she is enjoying his ‘burning’ kiss, so much that she starts to blush even though she’s dead. This also represents that he still thinks of her being alive and happy.