Robert Browning wrote “Porphyria’s Lover” in the 1830s. The speaker is Porphyria’s lover and he speaks in a very solemn tone. The poem never divulges the two characters’ real names. The mood is grim and despondent throughout the whole poem. The speaker in the poem shows through many ways that Porphyria yearned for her death, through the spontaneity of her murder, his solemn demeanor, her sickly symptoms, and the smile that was on her face when she was killed.
The mood is very dismal and melancholy. It begins with a description of a storm approaching. This sets the overall tone of the poem.
“The rain set early in tonight,
The sullen wind was soon awake,
It tore the elm-tops down for spite,
And did its worst to vex the lake:”(698).
The speaker seems to be in a solemn mood because he is troubled with what he is about to do. He is preparing himself for the horrific crime he must commit. When Porphyria sits beside him, he does not respond to her when she speaks to him.
And, last, she sat down by my side
And called me. When no voice replied,
She put my arm about her waist”(699).
The speaker hints that something is wrong with Porphyria. He states that she has a passion for him, but is too weak to express it, even though she has done so before.
“Murmuring how she loved me – she
Too weak, for all her heart’s endeavor,
To set its struggling passion free”(699).
Illness is evident in Porphyria when her lover claims that she is pale and his love for her was “all in vain”(699). A sudden thought of one so pale”(699). His love for her was futile and hopeless because of her failing health and he knew they would not be together for much longer. The speaker was not yet decided upon what he wanted to do with their situation.
“Porphyria worshiped me: surprise
Made my heart swell, and still it grew
While I debated what to do”(699).
The act of taking her life was spontaneous, a spur of the moment decision. Even though her death was inevitable, he had not known the means to which her demise would be carried out.
A thing to do, and all her hair
In one long yellow string I wound
Three times her little throat around,”(699).
The word “found” indicates that he did not plan out her death beforehand. After he kills her, he convinces himself that she felt no pain. This proves that he did not do it out of anger or revenge.
“No pain felt she;
I am quite sure she felt no pain”(699).
The lover warily opened her eyes and he saw no blame in them, only happiness. He described her blue eyes as laughing which reveals what she feels in the last moments of her life.
“I warily oped her lids: again
Laughed the blue eyes without a stain”(699).
He then unwound her tresses from around her neck and gave her a “burning kiss” filled with all the love he had for her (699). He sits with Porphyria’s head resting on his shoulder while she still smiles.
“The smiling rosy little head,
So glad it had its utmost will”(699).
Porphyria’s will was to die but do not know when or how she would. This makes the spontaneity of the act all the more understandable. The speaker calls it her “darling one wish” making it all the more important and special (700).
The speaker was not able to let her go, even after her death. “He must and has indeed chosen to sit within the realm of the painful emotion that his act of granting her last wish burdened him with”(Best). His act of love burdens and renders him unable to relinquish his love just yet.
“And thus we sat together now,
And all night long we have not stirred”(700).
Porphyria’s death was so just that “God has not said a word! ”(700). His actions were ethically right and not one God from any religion would disagree and punish him for it.
Robert Brown’s “Porphyria’s Lover” is very misunderstood in its meaning. The speaker is seen as a madman when really, he is a man faced with a task that he must grant unto his love. Brown sets up the play as gloomy when he writes that a storm is fast approaching and the wind is blowing so hard that the trees are bending. The lover finds it hard to speak to Porphyria because he is faced with a horrific situation. Her murder was made with a split decision and carried out with great remorse. He even remarks upon her pale face, hinting that she is sick.
After her death, she has a smile on her face and her eyes are laughing. This is a telltale sign that she wished for her own painless death to escape a gruesome one down the road. His love for was so great that even the Gods could not object to him killing her.
Best, J. T. “‘Porphyria’s Lover’ — Vastly Misunderstood Poetry. ” The Victorian Web. N. p. 8 June 2007. Web. 6 March 2013.
Browning, Robert. “Porphyria’s Lover. ” 1836. Compact Literature: Reading, Reacting, Writing. 8th ed.
Ed. Kirszner and Mandell. Boston, MA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning, 2013. 698-700. Print. Padgett
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