Robert Browning wrote the poem ‘Porphyria’s lover’. It is written in dramatic monologue, meaning it was spoken by the lover who is clearly mad. Browning gives the poem a Victorian gothic setting. This is displayed in the opening lines, “The rain set early in tonight,
The sullen wind was soon awake,
It tore the elm-tops down for spite,Order now
And did its worst to vex the lake:”
These lines give the idea of dark and sullenness, words like rain, sullen wind and vex really bring the setting alive. These words are very colourful and help create the character of the madman. It also creates a moody image.
The poem consists of a mad man and his lover (Porphyria). Porphyria walked through extreme weather to see the man from a party. At first the man thought that Porphyria was not good enough for him and he was merely another name to her list of conquests. But he was then persuaded to think that Porphyria ‘worshiped’ him and the only way they could be together was to put her out of her misery, so he strangled Porphyria.
Browning uses his language very subtlety, meaning you would either have to look closely or to read the poem over more than once in order to fully appreciate the greatness of the writing. The madman is given a very mysterious character, forcing the readers to want to know more about him. His character contrasts with that of Porphyria, who is beautiful and warm,
‘When glided in Porphyria:’ ‘she shut the cold out,’ and ‘kneeled and made the cheerless grate blaze up,’ are examples of how Browning created her character. Browning uses the character of Porphyria to exaggerate the dark, mysterious character of the madman.
The gothic setting of the poem, the dark and rain reflect the feelings of the madman. ‘Sullen’, ‘spite’ ‘vex’ are words used in the opening lines to describe the storm but also are words to describe his feelings. This creates a tense atmosphere that the madman is feeling. This atmosphere is then broken when Porphyria enters the cottage.
The madman describes Porphyria in a romantic way. Porphyria ‘untied her hat and let the damp hair fall’ and ‘she sat down by my side’. In those times this behaviour would have been thought of to be quite romantic. He then builds her up and portrays her actions as if she was seducing him. This leads him to think that she is ‘too weak’ for him, as he says ‘too weak, for all her hearts endeavour’. But when the madman finds that Porphyria had walked from a party defying her friends and family to be with him, he concludes by saying that ‘Porphyria worshipp’d’ him. To the madman this was a great surprise and ‘made his heart swell’. This made him feel good, the fact that she worshiped him made his insecurity lead to sadistic domination. He then realise this would not last…
“While I debated what to do”. At that moment, “she was mine, mine fair”, Browning’s use of repetition re-enforces his feelings of dominance and his fear of losing this. This realisation created a psychopathic thought, which turned in to reality. “I found a thing to do, and all her hair
In one long yellow string I wound
Three times her little throat around,
And strangled her.”
In his moment of insanity he does not believe that this is wrong. Browning emphasizes this by repeating, “no pain felt she, I’m sure quite sure she felt no pain.” He compares Porphyria to a “shut bud that holds a bee”. This creates the image of the beautiful delicate bud the hold a stinging bee that can cause pain.
The logical conclusion of this desire for total possession is a species of necrophilia, his desire to sit with the dead Porphyria who has been reduced to a thing shows this phenomenon.
The madman’s insanity is further enforced when he describes her dead expression as, “Smiling rosy little head,
So glad it has its utmost will”
As if the murderer believes Porphyria to be pleased. This is because “That all it scorn’d at once is fled”, stating all her failings have gone and “I, its love, am Gain’d instead”, he believes he has absorbed her goodness and her love through his despicable act.
Porphyria was not to have known that her desires were to be realised through her death and this is how the murderer has answered “her darling one wish”.
Porphyria loved his outward image not knowing his inner dark insecurities and through murdering her he was able to preserve this illusion forever. Browning powerfully expresses the insane madman’s belief that he has done no wrong by using religious backing,
“And yet God has not said a word.”
In summing up my overview of the poem I will first of all discuss the flow of images, which Browning creates. He firstly describes a dark, depressing setting, which changes as Porphyria arrives moving on to become more optimistic, lifting the atmosphere and building in the direction of the climax of the murder. Then the climax begins to unwind to an almost peaceful setting. The images contrast throughout the poem leading the reader on a journey of emotions. This helps to illustrate the themes of good and evil.
The poem is given a poetic quality by the use of alternate lines of rhyme. This continues rhythmically enabling Browning to create a pattern helping to emphasise a sense of finality at the end of the poem. Further highlighting the issue raised.
In conclusion Browning is asking dark questions, which remain unanswerable and beyond our understanding. These questions include, motives for murder, how someone can confuse reality with insanity, he also tries address complex ultimate issues of death and immortality, which must remain out of reach.