In this essay, I will be examining two poems – ‘Porphyria’s Lover’, by Robert Browning, and ‘Human Interest’, by Carol Ann Duffy. The poems, which are both dramatic monologues, have many similarities, but they also have many differences. ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ first appeared in January 1836, whereas ‘Human Interest’ was written in the late 1900’s.
The murderers in ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ and ‘Human Interest’ have some similarities, as well as many differences. I will examine the similarities first.
The first similarity is that both murderers are almost certainly male, although there is more evidence in ‘Human Interest’ than in ‘Porphyria’s Lover’. I believe that both are male because in ”Human Interest” the murderer talks about “the other bloke”, implying that this persona is male, and in ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ the killer strangles Porphyria. This suggests a degree of strength not commanded by nineteenth-century women. Also, homosexuality was not acceptable then, although this may go towards an alternative explanation as to why the two lovers can only meet in secret.Order now
I also know that both murderers loved their victims; the text in ”Human Interest” clearly states “I loved her…my baby”, and Porphyria’s lover describes his “…love of her…”. Because the murderers loved their victims it makes the motives for the killings, which I will examine later, all the more interesting and the murders themselves harder to comprehend.
Another similarity that I have noticed is that both murderers are mentally weak – they both murder their partners because they are jealous that they may end up marrying someone else. Succumbing to jealousy in this way also suggests that they are in some way insecure, and need to remove the cause of the problem, that is their partners, to feel secure again.
There are also many differences between the two murderers. Exploring their lifestyles, we can see that the murderer in ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ is quite lazy, leaving Porphyria to make “…the cheerless grate blaze up…” instead of doing it himself. In contrast, the killer in ”Human Interest” says “I’d slogged my guts out for her…”, implying that he is a very hard worker.
The murders themselves also differ enormously – the murderer in ‘Human Interest’ brutally stabs his victim, presumably after an argument or when she becomes upset, whereas Porphyria’s lover strangles her in cold blood. Also, unlike Porphyria’s lover, the ‘Human Interest’ murderer is bitter about murdering his love, and the fact that he’s been convicted and jailed – he recollects “I’d slogged my guts out for her, but she lied when I knew different”. Conversely, Porphyria’s murderer is unfazed by his act, and proud that “…God has not said a word”. Also, it seems that Porphyria’s lover has not yet been caught. Studying the poem further explains this – the murderer is talking about his deed on the night of the murder, so no-one has noticed yet.
Another difference that I have noticed is that the ‘Human Interest’ murder is completely spontaneous, unlike the briefly pre-planned murder of Porphyria. In ‘Human Interest’ the victim “…turned away”, dismissing her (ex-)lover, and the murderer “…stabbed”, whereas Porphyria’s lover “…debated what to do”.
I will now study the similarities and differences between the victims, once again beginning with their similarities.
Unlike the murderers, it is easier to determine the gender of the victims – both murderers refer to them with words like ‘her’ and ‘she’. Porphyria is an unusual name, and although it sounds feminine, I cannot conclude from the name alone that the victim is female. We do not know the name of the victim in ‘Human Interest’.
We know that both victims were workers – Porphyria’s first action upon appearance is to make the fire “…blaze up…”, and the killer in ‘Human Interest’ claims that his victim “…used to meet some prick after work”. This suggests that they have something in common – both are happy to go against the standard form of conduct (male works, female stays at home) and work for their loves. This suggests a strong character in both women.
I will now investigate the differences.
In ‘Porphyria’s Lover’, we know that Porphyria was not a bad person. In fact, she seemed to be very loving, kind and gentle – “…she shut the cold out and the storm, and … made the cheerless grate blaze up…”. We know that she loved her killer, as she was “…murmuring how she loved me …”. In contrast, the victim in ‘Human Interest’ may have been sleeping with someone other than her lover/husband, although we don’t have conclusive proof that she was. Indeed, the only reason I think this is because the murderer says that “she used to meet some prick after work”. His proof is that he found “…a silver heart”, which he assumes “…the other bloke had bought her…”.
Yet, when he “…accused her, she cried and denied it”. This could be for a number of reasons; she may be trying to get out of it, and is therefore trying to manipulate him by crying and making him feel less angry, or she may be so ashamed by her actions that her murderer’s discovery of her conduct has made her extremely upset. She may think or realise that he is violent, and is afraid of the consequences of her admitting it. Finally, the accusations may simply be untrue, and she’s upset that her boyfriend/husband thinks that she would do such a thing.
Another difference is that whilst Porphyria was happy at the time of her demise, it seems that the victim in ‘Human Interest’ was upset, following the accusation made by her killer. As mentioned earlier, Porphyria was killed in cold blood, whereas the murderer in ‘Human Interest’ stabs his love after she dismissively turns away.
There are many motives for the murders, but there is one which stands out from all the others, and that is jealousy. In ‘Porphyria’s Lover’, the murderer kills Porphyria because she is “…too weak…” to free her heart’s passion “…from pride, and vainer ties…”. In other words, he commits murder because Porphyria has not got the willpower to leave her higher-class family to marry her one true love (the murderer), so he kills her to prevent her marrying someone else. Similarly, the murderer in ‘Human Interest’ kills his partner to prevent her from going off with another man.
I will now compare and contrast the aftermath of the murders, paying particular attention to how the murderers feel, and what happens next.
In ‘Porphyria’s Lover’, the aftermath of the murder is portrayed very well, unlike ‘Human Interest’, which is summed up very quickly. We see that Porphyria’s lover does something very unusual after he’s carefully strangled her – he remains with her. Instead of panicking, he “…warily oped her lids…”, and laughs at her unblemished “…blue eyes…”. So, we see that he is happy, and we can also note that he is proud that he has not been discovered – “…and I, it’s love, am gained instead … yet God has not said a word”. These are very strange feelings for someone who has just committed a terrible crime, and it suggests that he feels no guilt. Conversely, the murderer in ‘Human Interest’ is distraught by his actions, and when he “…think about her now, … near choke with grief”. He explains that he “…wouldn’t harm a fly…”, and that “she wasn’t a tart or nothing”. This shows bitter remorse, and is completely opposite to how the murderer in ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ feels.
With a view to what happens next, there are also stark contrasts between the two poems. We do not know what happens to Porphyria’s lover further than his remaining undiscovered with Porphyria, but we do know that the murderer in ‘Human Interest’ was caught. In his own words, he has got “fifteen years minimum, banged up inside for what took thirty seconds to complete”. This shows that he was either caught, tried and prosecuted, or he went to the police and turned himself in. Either way, he is now in jail for at least fifteen years.
I believe that there are a number of reasons why the poems were written, and I believe that one which is similar in both poems is to do with dealing with illness. In ‘Human Interest’, the murderer is clearly mentally unstable, flicking from loving to hating his victim, and back again, very quickly. It may have been the murder that made him like this, but this is only speculation, as his mental health is unclear. Perhaps for this reason he should not be in jail, but this is irrelevant to the reasons why the poem was written.
Equally, I believe that ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ was written not because anything like this happened (I have never heard of anyone with the name Porphyria), but because the disease porphyria was becoming common in the early to mid 1800’s. This is a disease which is most common in females in their thirties, and it can cause fatal respiratory paralysis. The strangulation would therefore be symbolic of this paralysis, and the woman symbolic of those suffering the disease at the time. Perhaps Robert Browning knew someone with the disease, or maybe it was in his family (the disease is hereditary).
Taking the idea of the woman Porphyria representing all sufferers further, we could say that the murderer in ‘Human Interest’ is symbolic of all those who have done the same, and his words are their thoughts. This raises the issue of crime and murder being far too common in the modern world, and perhaps that law and order generally is breaking down. When the poem was written, fifteen to twenty years ago, the ‘punk’ era was just about at it’s height, and this may symbolise the mass rebellion against conventional etiquette.
There are many important techniques which the two writers, Robert Browning and Carol Ann Duffy, have used and I will now compare and contrast these. The first, and possibly most obvious, technique used is to do with structure. Unlike ‘Human Interest’, ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ is set out as one long verse, with no line breaks. This gives the structure no defining characteristics, and therefore gives nothing away about the content of the poem. It could be symbolic of the murderer having something to hide, for example – the murder. It could equally suggest that the speaker is in a hurry to say what he wants to.
‘Human Interest’, on the other hand, has an intriguing structure, as it is that of a sonnet (four verses set out where the first verse and third verse have four lines, and the second verse and fourth verse have three lines). This is so interesting because, although the principle theme of the poem appears to be the murder, poems set out in this way are usually love poems. The poem starts of in quite an angry tone, but it seems that the murderer’s sentiments switch to loving his victim in the final two verses. An angry “I’d slogged my guts out for her…” appears in the second verse, but in the third verse the murderer says that he “…loved her”.
There is also a definite rhyming pattern in ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ – in sections of five lines, the last words rhyme in the following order: A, B, A, B, B. Although there is rhyming present in ‘Human Interest’, it is erratic. This suggests confusion in the persona’s mind. Furthermore, the neatly arranged rhyming in ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ suggests that the persona has complete control of their thoughts, and that they are completely calm.
The style of the writing also differs between the two poems – in ‘Human Interest’, ‘standard’, (that is, how one would normally speak) informal, colloquial language is used. This gives the impression that the persona no longer cares, and can’t even be bothered to speak properly. The text is also in a confessional style, which is typical of Duffy. ‘Porphyria’s Lover’, on the other hand, is quite a formal style, and the persona is simply telling the story, without any obvious guilt.
In ‘Porphyria’s Lover’, Browning has used exaggeration for effect by having the persona say that he wound Porphyria’s hair “…three times her little throat around…”. I believe this to be exaggerated because, if it were true, Porphyria’s hair would have to be about four feet long, which is ridiculous. There is no exaggeration in ‘Human Interest’, but there is a lot of isotropy – the persona repeatedly emphasised the point that he loved his victim. This is demonstrated in quotes like “I loved her”, “my baby”, and “…she wasn’t a tart…”. He also emphasises his angry reaction to her infidelity – “…thirty seconds to complete”, “I stabbed”, “she stank of deceit”.
Finally, both poets use enjambment, albeit irregularly. This shows long and deep, but slightly erratic, thought at times by both personas.
After reviewing ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ and ‘Human Interest’, I have found that they are very similar in many ways, although they do have their differences. Both poems are based on the theme of murder for love, and murder resulting from jealousy.