Thursday, June 16, 2011

Porphyria's Lover-R. Browning

I think Porphyria’s Lover could be read in many ways. For me, the most interesting thing is the contrast between the male and female characters. They seem to represent two completely different reactions to love. Porphyria embraces her feelings of love. She comes to comfort her lover even in the midst of a great storm, and she fills his home with warmth. Browning writes, “She shut the cold out and the storm, / And kneeled and made the cheerless grate / Blaze up, and all the cottage warm” (lines 7-9). She also works hard to comfort her lover and ends up confessing her love for him. The lover says, “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” (lines 16-21).

After the confession of love, Porphyria’s lover finds himself with a choice to make. What should he do? He notes, “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 wound / Three times her little throat around, / And strangled her” (lines 36-41).

Is he attempting to preserve her love by capturing it in that moment? Or is he simply rejecting it? Does his crime corrupt the purity of that love? Or does his act show the love to be one-sided? I think you could look at this portion in any number of ways. For me, the lover seems to care for her in some way, but his feelings are odd. He seems to feel he benefits as much in her death as he did receiving her love when she was alive. When she dies, he remarks, “I, its love, am gained instead” (line 55). He even sits with Porphyria for the remainder of the evening. What I cannot decide is what he thinks he accomplished. Has he preserved the feelings of the present? Did he prevent those feelings of love from changing by stopping time?

Was Porphyria a fool for giving in to love and feeling safe with this man? Was her lover a fool for ending her living affection? It seems to me that Porphyria and all she represents triumph in the end. Even after her lover has strangled her, he describes her features as beautiful: “again / Laughed the blue eyes without a stain. . . . / her cheek once more / Blushed bright beneath my burning kiss” (lines 44-48). These images mirror the comfort and warmth Porphyria brings him in the beginning of the poem. To me, it seems as if the signs of her love remain—even in killing her, her lover didn’t diminish that love. Was he a fool for trying?

I can’t say I understood every part of this. I know that I could have looked at this poem from a variety of angles, and I know that this could be analyzed in much greater depth. In the end, this poem left me with more questions than answers, but I think this is a good example of how Browning leaves messages and clues about the characters for us to sort out.


  1. Sarah,

    I like the way you foreground your confusion and awareness of multiple possible interpretations of this dramatic monologue. I think an honest exploration of the problematic elements in a poem is preferable to a pretended certainty!

  2. I also was confused about the meaning in this poem. I felt that he did in fact love her, and it was the love that caused him such great passion that he killed her. In killing her he keeps her just the way she was when she confessed her love. Looking at it that way I could see how he was afraid that time would corrupt or diminish her love for him; therefore, once he had it he killed her to keep it forever.

  3. This poem really shocked me. I had to reread it a few times and make sure that I was reading it right, that yes, he did just kill her. He's really not responsive for the first part of the poem. Really the first proactive thing that he does is kill her after realizing that she is his. It's almost like he realizes that he can take control, and then does .... COMPLETELY. It's almost like he's just taking her as a possession.

  4. This poem was also confusing to me. You could analyze it in so many different ways.My interpretation was that he killed her because she had an illness and he did not want his lover to suffer.It was very hard for him but he knew that if he didn't do the unthinkable he probably could not fulfill his promise. It has to be now or never.

  5. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that the reason this jerk killed his girl was because he was a sick, demented, and mean son-of-a...,well, you get the idea.

  6. This poem was crazy to me. I was completely shocked when I read that he strangled her. I think he also wanted to preserve the moment in time that her lay upon his shoulder. However, the man seems like a real jerk, as the above comment states. The girl did not deserve to die just because he could never have her. I agree with also with what Dr. Glance said in one of our chats about the obvious controversy over the two classes that the characters came from and how that was tearing them apart. This poem definitely through me for a loop and left me very awestruck!