The poem ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ written by Robert Browning appeared in 1836 and is one of the earliest and most shocking poems from the collection of dramatic monologues known as ‘madhouse cells’. This poem is about a psychotic character who strangles his lover Porphyria with her own hair and manages to kill her when she comes to visit him. The visit took place on a stormy night when Porphyria comes in, out of a storm and proceeds to make a fire bringing warmth and happiness to the cottage.
Browning narrates the poem from the lovers point of view but makes the character Porphyria more powerful and dominant through the first part of the poem. The title chosen by Robert Browning informs the reader that the poem is about an obsessive love between two main characters, as the poem goes along we learn that a major theme is the power struggle between the two characters. The common themes used in the poem are: love, madness and power.
Robert Browning uses techniques such as pathetic fallacy to set the scene and portray the mood of the lover and his characteristics, the character of Porphyria’s Lover is disturbingly portrayed through the words he uses. Robert Browning begins his poem by using pathetic fallacy to set the scene, he begins by using personification of a stormy night, he creates imagery which reflects the speaker’s own disturbing thoughts, “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:”.
With these words Browning shows us that the lover is waiting anxiously for Porphyria inside the cottage. He creates an image of a stormy night adding a creepy and mysterious element to the poem, this creates a tense atmosphere for the reader as they are quite uneasy to begin with. By personifying the weather Browning relates to the emotions and the mood of the character and foreshadows feelings and emotions he may have later in the poem. It also make the reader feel that something unexpected is going to happen, this creates a tense atmosphere and some excitement.
Therefore Browning uses weather as a method of control as it sets the scene for the poem. Browning introduces Porphyria in line six of the poem when she enters, Porphyria makes things warm inside the cottage in contrast to the cold weather outside, “When glided in Porphyria; straight, She shut the cold out and the storm,”. The poet uses the word ‘glided’ to describe the way Porphyria entered the cottage it shows her to be very elegant and graceful and the reader is made to have a good attitude towards her from the first moment she is introduced, it also creates imagery of an innocent looking girl.
At the time the poem was written all the ghostly and supernatural ideas were associated with beliefs of people and often there religion, so the use of the word, ‘glided’ creates an indication of Porphyria being very angelic and ghostly. It also shows how the narrator is looking up to her and admiring her as she is shown to have power. Because of the way Porphyria is described it gives the reader a sense that she is from a privileged , upper class background in Victorian times, ‘the dripping cloak and shawl, and laid her soiled gloves by’ This proves that she is from a wealthy family and also shows her power and control over her lover.
She lightens up the whole the cottage and makes it warm, the reader can see that she has been her before many times as she knew how to bring cheer and the mood changes from gloomy to bright even though the narrator is not speaking as he is too wrapped up in his own thoughts, he seems like an excited child as his tone changes as he describes his affection for her.
The structure of the poem is set as one long stanza without any breaks this builds up the tension as the pace becomes quicker it is effective because it creates excitement for the reader. The poet also uses the ABABB form which shows inconsistency and may reflect the relationship of the characters. Browning also uses anaphora to tell the poem as he begins most lines with the word ‘and’ this is evident in the middle of the poem,’ And made her smooth white shoulder bare, And all her yellow hair displaced, And, stooping, made my cheek lie there. ”
As the poem continues Porphyria offers her lover her bare shoulder, the narrator tells us he does not speak to her as he listens to her saying how she has avoided the rules of society and come to be with him, this shows the reader that Porphyria is quite rebellious as it is not easy for a girl of her status to come out in the dark to visit her lover who is a secret. He realises at this moment that she worships him but will eventually give into the pressures of society ‘I knew / Porphyria worshipped me’. Browning uses his language techniques to portray the narrators controlling character and insanity.
This thought makes him start to debate what to do about her, it gives him energy to think and his voice becomes more active as he starts thinking of ways to preserve the moment in the middle of the poem. Browning also makes the lover think he is Godlike. While she is expressing her love towards him he wraps her hair around her neck and strangles her, as he strangles her he keeps re-assuring himself that she feels no pain. After he has killed Porphyria he recalls the story in a peaceful manner trying to justify what he has done this suggests he is mad and has a very unusual obsession towards Porphyria.
Through the poem the struggle for power was very evident it resulted in the lover taking control of Porphyria and killing her, the narrator speaks of Porphyria’s death as, ‘A shut bud that holds a bee’ the use of this simile by Browning illustrates the idea that the lover thought of himself as the bud of a flower attracting Porphyria who is the bee, once he had attracted her he shut himself around her as the closed bud, he was then able to overpower her completely and kill her.
From the beginning of the poem Porphyria is shown to have more power but due to her innocent character she was easily taken for granted, the narrator was able to use her as a possession as he took control and power from her and used her to his contentment. After this chilling event the narrator sits with her corpse all night. He then toys with it, opening the eyes and propping the body up against his side.
When he opened the eyes of Porphyria he said that they laughed, ”Laughed the blue eyes without a stain” This shows that Browning presented her as being alive after her death. The line, ”Blushed bright beneath my burning kiss” show that Porphyria’s Lover is crazy and dangerously passionate, it also shows his abnormal characteristics. As he sits with the corpse, he thinks that maybe what he did was right and approved by God and that’s why God hasn’t punished him yet.
He believes that now she is dead she is more richer as she has his love and undivided attention, Browning ends the poem by making the lover consider the fact that God hasn’t acted to punish him so therefore he must have done something good he may have even done her a favor as she may have been a fallen women, as he sits with her corpse he believes he has done the right thing by trying to justify himself and make himself believe that God is on his side, this also links to the his idea of Porphyria worshiping him earlier in the poem which emphasizes in his abnormal and insane behavior.