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Poetry Archives > Porphyria's Lover - Browning

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message 1: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Moran | 191 comments We will be discussing this poem from 2/19 to 2/25 and beyond. Our last Browning for the time being. So sad!


message 2: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Moran | 191 comments Porphyria's Lover
BY ROBERT BROWNING

The rain set early in to-night,
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; straight
She shut the cold out and the storm,
And kneeled and made the cheerless grate
Blaze up, and all the cottage warm;
Which done, she rose, and from her form
Withdrew the dripping cloak and shawl,
And laid her soiled gloves by, untied
Her hat and let the damp hair fall,
And, last, she sat down by my side
And 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 — she
Too weak, for all her heart's endeavour,
To set its struggling passion free
From pride, and vainer ties dissever,
And give herself to me for ever.
But passion sometimes would prevail,
Nor could to-night's gay feast restrain
A sudden thought of one so pale
For love of her, and all in vain:
So, she was come through wind and rain.
Be sure I looked up at her eyes
Happy and proud; at last I knew
Porphyria worshipped me; surprise
Made my heart swell, and still it grew
While I debated what to do.
That moment she was mine, mine, fair,
Perfectly pure and good: 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. 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: again
Laughed the blue eyes without a stain.
And I untightened next the tress
About her neck; her cheek once more
Blushed bright beneath my burning kiss:
I propped her head up as before,
Only, this time my shoulder bore
Her 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 how
Her 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!


message 3: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Moran | 191 comments The climax of this poem just kind of sneaks up on you: "In one long yellow string I wound / Three times her little throat around,
And strangled her." What is the speaker's motive for strangling Porphyria?


message 4: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Moran | 191 comments Did anyone notice the special rhyme scheme here? ABABB CDCDD. Where did Browning get this from?


message 5: by Judy (new)

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 43 comments I was surprised to realise how young Browning was when he wrote this poem - according to the very interesting Wikipedia page about it, this was his first short dramatic monologue and published in 1836, when he would only have been 24. It is also said that it might be based on a real murder case.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Porphyr...


message 6: by Judy (last edited Mar 05, 2017 01:55PM) (new)

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 43 comments Jonathan wrote: "The climax of this poem just kind of sneaks up on you: "In one long yellow string I wound / Three times her little throat around,
And strangled her." What is the speaker's motive for strangling Po..."


I think his motive is to make her "Perfectly pure and good" and "mine, mine" - he takes away her ability to leave him and go back to the feast and the "vainer ties".

It's interesting to come to this after My Last Duchess, because there is the same idea of murder as a way of controlling the rebellious woman forever.

The Wikipedia page includes some thoughts about how Porphyria arranges the speaker's body like a human tableau to start with, then he does the same to her. Looking at this, I see that the hair is used in both halves - first she spreads her hair over him and then he turns it into a "string" and uses it to kill her.

It also strikes me that he sounds almost as if he is dead or dying in the first half - so pale, with "no voice" to reply - but suddenly he finds the strength to kill her. Very strange and haunting.


message 7: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Moran | 191 comments Judy, almost like a vampire, where he needs her death to feed him life.


message 8: by Lucia (new)

Lucia | 182 comments Jonathan wrote: "What is the speaker's motive for strangling Po..."

Jonathan
I think you went straight to the heart of the matter, which is not IF (My Last Duchess) but WHY.

I can see three possible reasons why.
The first concerns a sort of sacrifice, as the word worshipped (l. 35) and "give herself to me for ever"  (l. 25) suggest.
The second is that this is a case of (ill) absolute love: the "she" and the "I" become "we" in Porphiria's death (cfr last lines).
The third is that the speaker is insane. Porphiria is the object of his obsession. We can distinguish a sort of crescendo of "I, me, my" till the crucial moment is reached through the menacing repetition of the pronoun mine (l. 36):  "That moment she was mine, mine".  It is now, with an unpredictable movement of his thought, that the speakers decides what to do. This is why I think of him being a lunatic.
I can be right or wrong, but what is really important is that the monologue implies the absence of a unique truth, which is strictly connected with the absence of God:
"And thus we sit together now,
And all night long we have not stirred,
and yet God has not said a word!"

And this is what the reader is required to do and judge the speaker's words.


message 9: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Moran | 191 comments Lucia wrote: ""And thus we sit together now,
And all night long we have not stirred,
and yet God has not said a word!""


Early in his career, we know from the bio I posted that Browning was an atheist. It seems he patterned himself after Shelley in this regard. Do you see the speaker as an atheist? Or, is he disappointed in God and therefore mocking him for doing nothing to punish his murder?


message 10: by Clarissa (new)

Clarissa (clariann) | 526 comments Jonathan wrote: "Lucia wrote: ""And thus we sit together now,
And all night long we have not stirred,
and yet God has not said a word!""

Early in his career, we know from the bio I posted that Browning was an at..."


The wiki page that Judy linked summarises some interesting theories, about whether the speaker expects God to approve of the murder because he has preserved the girl's purity, or if he's hearing voices in his head as part of his insanity. I always took it to mean the emptiness of the world, that there isn't someone preserving the beauty, no divine power saves her and there is no vengeance as he keeps her by his side. He, a mere human, has the power to use her as a piece of art, in sharp reality to the idea that the beautiful things in this world are shaped and protected by a divine protector.


message 11: by Lucia (last edited Mar 11, 2017 10:34AM) (new)

Lucia | 182 comments Jonathan wrote: "Early in his career, we know from the bio I posted that Browning was an at..."

As far as I know, Browning started as an atheist, but later on he revised his position and did not discredit faith in God anymore. Phorphyria's lover was written before 1859, which means earlier than the extreme consequences brought about by "the murder of God". The absence of God I was referring to is a sort of inadequacy of religion to give a satisfactory answer to experiences and  moral issues. Browning's characters (the Spanish monk and Fra Lippo, for example) show how wide is the gap between religious doctrine and real life. I think that it is for this reason that the reader is asked to judge the speaker's morality.
I am trying to "read" beyond the lines, in the attempt of estabilishing a link between the monologue (theme and technique) and the Victorian cultural frame.


message 12: by Clarissa (new)

Clarissa (clariann) | 526 comments Lucia wrote: "I am trying to "read" beyond the lines, in the attempt of estabilishing a link between the monologue (theme and technique) and the Victorian cultural frame. .."

How do you think Browning fits into the Victorian period, is he typical of his time? I am not well read on the poetry side but his dramatic monologues seem a very unique manner of expressing the psychology and hypocrisy of the time. The dark underbelly of the Victorian focus on purity and appearances.


message 13: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Moran | 191 comments Clari wrote: "How do you think Browning fits into the Victorian period, is he typical of his time?"

The dramatic monologue became popular during the Romantic Period of poetry. The Byronic hero also became famous in that time period, as evidenced by "Manfred", a poem by Lord Byron. I think he fits in better with that era.


message 14: by Lucia (last edited Mar 20, 2017 01:36PM) (new)

Lucia | 182 comments Sorry, I am totally absent minded. I forgot to post this one.
I think that Browning was anti-Victorian for many aspects. But this age was complex and contradictory, so it can be that in a certain sense he fits into this period. Or better, he would have probably fitted in the last decades of the century.
I'd like to know your opinion.


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