'Porphyria's Lover' by Robert Browning

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1834The 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:I listened with heart fit to break.When glided in Porphyria; straightShe shut the cold out and the storm,And kneeled and made the cheerless grateBlaze up, and all the cottage warm;Which done, she rose, and from her formWithdrew the dripping cloak and shawl,And laid her soiled gloves by, untiedHer hat and let the damp hair fall,And, last, she sat down by my sideAnd called me. When no voice replied,She put my arm about her waist,And made her smooth white shoulder bare,And all her yellow hair displaced,And, stooping, made my cheek lie there,And spread, o'er all, her yellow hair,Murmuring how she loved me--sheToo weak, for all her heart's endeavor,To set its struggling passion freeFrom pride, and vainer ties dissever,And give herself to me forever.But passion sometimes would prevail,Nor could tonight's gay feast restrainA sudden thought of one so paleFor love of her, and all in vain:So, she was come through wind and rain.Be sure I looked up at her eyesHappy and proud; at last I knewPorphyria worshiped me: surpriseMade my heart swell, and still it grewWhile I debated what to do.That moment she was mine, mine, fair,Perfectly pure and good: I foundA thing to do, and all her hairIn one long yellow string I woundThree times her little throat around,And strangled her. No pain felt she;I am quite sure she felt no pain.As a shut bud that holds a bee,I warily oped her lids: againLaughed the blue eyes without a stain.And I untightened next the tressAbout her neck; her cheek once moreBlushed bright beneath my burning kiss:I propped her head up as beforeOnly, this time my shoulder boreHer head, which droops upon it still:The smiling rosy little head,So glad it has its utmost will,That all it scorned at once is fled,And I, its love, am gained instead!Porphyria's love: she guessed not howHer darling one wish would be heard.And thus we sit together now,And all night long we have not stirred,And yet God has not said a word!

Editor 1 Interpretation

Porphyria's Lover: A Masterpiece of Psychological Horror

Porphyria's Lover, written by Robert Browning in 1836, is a chilling and unsettling portrayal of a man driven to madness by his obsessive love for a woman. This poem, with its vivid imagery and haunting tone, has fascinated and terrified readers for over a century. In this literary criticism and interpretation, we will explore the themes and motifs of Porphyria's Lover, analyze its structure and language, and delve into its psychological and cultural significance.

Background and Historical Context

Robert Browning was a Victorian poet known for his dramatic monologues, which reveal the inner thoughts and emotions of his characters. Porphyria's Lover is one such monologue, told from the perspective of a male narrator who kills his lover, Porphyria, in a moment of passion. The poem is set in an isolated cottage on a stormy night, adding to its eerie and claustrophobic atmosphere.

The Victorian era was a time of social and cultural change, marked by technological advances and scientific discoveries. It was also a time of strict moral codes and gender roles, where women were expected to be chaste and submissive. Browning's poem challenges these norms by portraying a woman who is sexually assertive and a man who is driven to violence by his desire. The poem can be seen as a critique of Victorian society's repressive attitudes towards sexuality and its effects on individual psyches.

Themes and Motifs

The main theme of Porphyria's Lover is love and obsession. The narrator is consumed by his love for Porphyria, to the point of madness. He sees her as a goddess-like figure, who has the power to heal and redeem him. He is unable to control his passion, which leads him to kill her in a moment of delirium. The poem raises questions about the nature of love and the lengths people will go to in pursuit of it. Is love a positive force that brings people together, or a destructive force that drives them apart?

Another theme of the poem is power and control. The narrator is portrayed as a powerless figure, who is dependent on Porphyria's love and affection. He feels emasculated by his society's expectations of him as a man, and sees Porphyria as a source of strength and dominance. When she asserts her independence and sexuality, he becomes threatened and violent. The poem can be seen as a commentary on gender roles and power dynamics in Victorian society.

The motif of light and darkness is also prominent in Porphyria's Lover. The stormy night and the flickering fire in the cottage create an atmosphere of darkness and foreboding. Porphyria's entrance into the cottage, with her "yellow hair" and "smooth white shoulder," brings a momentary light and warmth. However, this moment is fleeting, and is soon replaced by the darkness and coldness of death. The contrast between light and dark underscores the poem's themes of love and obsession, power and control.

Structure and Language

Porphyria's Lover is structured as a dramatic monologue, with the narrator speaking directly to the reader. The poem consists of 60 lines, divided into two stanzas of unequal length. The first stanza describes the setting, the narrator's thoughts and emotions, and Porphyria's arrival. The second stanza describes the murder and the narrator's reaction to it. The structure of the poem creates a sense of suspense and tension, as the reader anticipates the narrator's violent act.

The language of Porphyria's Lover is rich and evocative, with vivid imagery and sensory details. Browning uses a variety of poetic techniques, such as alliteration, repetition, and enjambment, to create a musical and rhythmic flow. The use of first-person narration creates a sense of intimacy and immediacy, as the reader is drawn into the narrator's psyche. The poem's language is also notable for its ambiguity and complexity, as the narrator's motivations and actions are open to interpretation.

Psychological and Cultural Significance

Porphyria's Lover has been interpreted in many different ways, reflecting the diverse cultural and psychological contexts in which it has been read. Some critics have seen the poem as a psychological study of a disturbed individual, whose obsession and violence are symptoms of a deeper mental illness. Others have seen it as a critique of patriarchal society, which forces men and women into narrow roles and stifles their individuality.

The poem's portrayal of love and obsession has also been the subject of much analysis. Some critics have seen it as a cautionary tale about the dangers of unchecked passion, while others have seen it as a celebration of romantic love, even in its most extreme forms. The poem's ambiguous ending, where the narrator seems to justify his actions as an act of love, adds to its psychological complexity.

In conclusion, Porphyria's Lover is a masterpiece of psychological horror, which explores the themes of love and obsession, power and control, and light and darkness. Browning's use of dramatic monologue, vivid imagery, and symbolism creates a powerful and unsettling portrait of a man driven to madness by his desire. The poem's enduring popularity and cultural significance attest to its relevance and resonance across time and space.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Porphyria's Lover: A Dark Tale of Love and Obsession

Robert Browning's "Porphyria's Lover" is a haunting poem that explores the themes of love, obsession, and madness. The poem tells the story of a man who strangles his lover, Porphyria, with her own hair, in order to preserve the moment of their love forever. The poem is a dramatic monologue, in which the speaker, who is also the protagonist, tells the story of the murder from his own perspective. Through his words, we get a glimpse into the mind of a man who is driven to madness by his love for Porphyria.

The poem begins with a description of the weather outside, which is stormy and wild. The speaker is sitting in a cottage, waiting for Porphyria to arrive. When she finally does, she is wet and cold from the rain, but she is also full of love and passion for the speaker. She lights a fire and sits down beside him, and the two of them begin to talk. The speaker describes how he feels at this moment, saying that he is "perfectly happy" and that he wishes that this moment could last forever.

As the night goes on, Porphyria's love for the speaker becomes more and more intense. She begins to worship him, and the speaker describes how her love "vexes" him. He is overwhelmed by her passion, and he begins to feel that he must do something to preserve this moment forever. He decides to strangle her with her own hair, so that she will never leave him.

The murder itself is described in a chilling and disturbing way. The speaker wraps Porphyria's hair around her neck and tightens it until she is dead. He then sits with her body for the rest of the night, feeling a sense of peace and contentment. He believes that he has done the right thing, and that he has preserved their love forever.

The poem ends with the speaker describing how he has "perfectly" preserved Porphyria's love. He says that her eyes are still open, and that they are "smiling" at him. He believes that she is still alive in some way, and that their love will never die.

The poem is a powerful exploration of the themes of love, obsession, and madness. The speaker is clearly obsessed with Porphyria, and his love for her has driven him to madness. He believes that he has done the right thing by killing her, and he sees her death as a way of preserving their love forever. The poem is also a commentary on the nature of love itself. The speaker's love for Porphyria is all-consuming, and it leads him to commit a terrible act of violence. The poem suggests that love can be a dangerous and destructive force, and that it can drive people to do things that they would never normally do.

The poem is also notable for its use of language and imagery. Browning uses a number of literary devices to create a sense of tension and unease throughout the poem. The stormy weather outside the cottage mirrors the turmoil in the speaker's mind, and the use of pathetic fallacy creates a sense of foreboding. The description of Porphyria's hair as "yellow" and "smooth" creates a sense of beauty and sensuality, but it also foreshadows the violent act that is to come. The use of repetition, particularly in the phrase "perfectly happy," creates a sense of obsession and fixation.

In conclusion, "Porphyria's Lover" is a powerful and disturbing poem that explores the themes of love, obsession, and madness. The speaker's love for Porphyria is all-consuming, and it leads him to commit a terrible act of violence. The poem suggests that love can be a dangerous and destructive force, and that it can drive people to do things that they would never normally do. The poem is also notable for its use of language and imagery, which creates a sense of tension and unease throughout. Overall, "Porphyria's Lover" is a masterpiece of Victorian poetry, and it remains a powerful and relevant work today.

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