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Porphyria's Lover by Robert Browning Analysis


Part of the anthology for units 1 and 3, Porphyria's Lover by Robert Browning is a poem about a couple's relationship where the man kills the women because at she told him she loved him. Therefore, the man thought by killing her will let her be his forever. As the reader, we are disturbed by this poem from the madness portrayed by the man. Porphyria is the women and Porphyria's lover is the man. Below is a complete analysis of the poem from the form, language and structured used. Feel free to skip to the parts most relevant to you.

Form

  • The poem is the form of a dramatic monologue like many of Browning's poems are such as My Last Duchess. This is made clear from the use of 'I' and use of expressing emotions by the man throughout.
  • The poem is told from the point of view of an unreliable narrator because the narrator is mad. He's a murderer and still thinks he has done right because  'God has not said a word!'
  • There is no silent listener in the poem with only two characters involved being the couple. This draws us in even more because it is disturbing us. From this, we become the silent listener. 
  • The unreliability of the man emphasises his insanity. From having this in a form of a dramatic monologue emphasises juxtaposition between moral righteousness and what the man is doing. This makes the poem even more disturbing from the reader's perspective that this man feels he has done no wrong at the end of the poem.

Structure 

  • There are no stanzas in this poem: it is just one long speech. 
  • The rhyming scheme used can be seen as consistent hinting towards a ballad form every four lines. This gives the impression that the mindset of the lover does not change from the start of the poem to the end.
  • The poem is in time chronological order. 
Due to the lack of stanzas, the structure can be separated through key themes in the poem:
  • Porphyria coming home.
  • Porphyria looking after the man, lighting the fire. 
  • Porphyria laying down with the man.
  • Porphyria telling the man she loves him but cannot commit.
  • The man strangling Porphyria.
  • What the man does with the body.

Language

  • The immediate response from the title is that Porphyria is the women and the lover is the man. It also suggests foreshadowing insanity. 'Porphyria' is a mental illness that causes the subject hallucination and become insane reflecting upon the actions of the lover.
  • There is use of pathetic fallacy, 'The rain set early in to-night'. There has been previous rain/bad weather for a while. This makes clear their relationship has been bad for a while (the weather reflects their relationship).
  • The wind is personified, 'sullen wind'.
  • 'I listened with a heart fit to break'. This strengthens the form of this poem that it is a dramatic monologue. He is telling us his emotions that he is extremely unhappy.
  • Although she may not be called Porphyria, I will refer her by that name. Porphyria has come from a cold wet place to now a dry warm place providing a juxtaposition between setting.
  • The fact Porphyria 'glided' in makes her seem graceful.
  • She 'Blaze[s] up' which means she starts a fire going. This illustrates that she is looking after him.
  • 'When no voice replied' suggests that if no voice replied, they may have had arguments in the past that supports the point the pathetic fallacy was making.
  • She's 'Too weak, for all her heart's endeavour' makes clear he wants her to love him the way he loves her.
  • 'From price, and vainer ties dissever'. She is a respectable women in society and cares about how she is perceived. Paranoia is a symptom of the illness Porphyria. This also sugessts she has another life meaning she is unable to commit to him. This moment where she's breaking apart is here trying to be sweet and nice (otherwise know as ameliorative).
  • He believes 'Porphyria worshipped me' making him feel he had power and love. However, it doesn't mean anything because she cannot commit to a relationship he wants.
  • His madness continues where his materialistic trait comes through, 'mine, mine, fair'. He thinks he possesses her and strengthens this view by repeating 'mine'.
He shows desperation through the way he wanted to kill her:

'In on long yellow string I wound
Three times her little throat around,
And strangled her. No pain felt she'
  •             Porphyria is portrayed as fragile and vulnerable from the way her throat is 'little'.
  •             Extreme juxtaposition appears her. The start of the line starts with the way he murdered her innocently. This contrasts to to the ending where he pacifies the murder by unreliably claiming she felt no pain. The use of a caesura (break in the middle of the line being the full stop) makes clear that the line's conjunction has contradictory words such as 'strangled ' (which is also onomatopoeic) and 'no pain'.
  • He is forever worried about her love and wants to keep her loved. He wanted to retain her at the most perfect moment in time when she loved him. Therefore, by killing her then will, in his opinion, mean she will love him forever. 
  • We gain the impression he is careful and loving after the murder making this seem even more disturbing to read. This is made clear through the use of sibilance on words such as 'tress', 'Blushed' and 'kiss'. The repeated 's' sound makes him sound soft and caring juxtaposing to what he just did to her.
  • He is portrayed as even more insane, 'I propped her head up as before' showing his affectionate side. However, this is not the way a killer would react.
  • He objectifies Porphyria 'The smiling rosy little head, / So glad it has its utmost will'. This also makes clear that he believes she wanted to be killed. Therefore, he did it for her sake.
  • 'And I, its love, am gained instead!' He is sating that she's got him forever now instead of her 'vainer ties'.
  • The use of 'its' provides dissociation from society.
  • 'And all night long we have not stirred'. He has been in the same position all night long. He is finally spending a night with her without interruptions of morals or arguments.
'And yet God has not said a word!' 
This quote can have different interpretations:
  • He must think he has been morally right if God has not disturbed him while murdering Porphyria. 
  • He doesn't know if he has done right or wrong. Therefore, he wants God's approval.
  • He is criticizing God that he could let such a deed like this happen without any consequences.
  • He is criticizing religion. He has done something this bad and has not been punished by God questioning religion.
Be sure to check out other poems I have analysed on Ask Will Online.

About Will Green

A student in England studying Automotive Engineering with Motorsport, Will created Ask Will Online back in 2010 to help students revise and bloggers make money. You can follow AskWillOnline via @AskWillOnline.

11 comments so far:

  1. This is really helpful. Thank you

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  2. mention of sibilance is impressive. Although this poem may be interpreted in totally another way where Porphyria shows sympton of lethal disease and lover kills her to relieve her the painful death of the disease and thats why she has a smile even when she is dead. So overaching message of poem is same but Speaker is not a lunatic..... just how i interpreted it

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  3. Replies
    1. how is it rubbish

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  4. amazing analysis! keep up the good work! :)

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