“Porphyria’s Lover” Essay, Research Paper
The Point of View in “Porphyria’s Lover”
“Porphyria’s Lover” is an exhilarating love story given from a lunatic’s
point of view. It is the story of a man who is so obsessed with Porphyria that
he decides to keep her for himself. The only way he feels he can keep her,
though, is by killing her. Robert Browning’s poem depicts the separation of
social classes and describes the “triumph” of one man over an unjust society.
As is often the case in fiction, the speaker of “Porphyria’s Lover” does not
give accurate information in the story.
The speaker is a deranged man who will stop at nothing to keep his dear
Porphyria. Although the introduction refers to the weather, it also does an
effective job in describing the speaker. In this case, it is nighttime, and the
thunder is roaring. The speaker starts by saying: “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(Barnet 567):” This description gives the
reader the first glimpse of what is yet to come. These turbulent words help
give the poem a gloomy feeling.
When Porphyria arrives at the speaker’s cottage, she is dripping wet.
The speaker makes it an important point to describe her after her arrival. The
description of the articles of clothing that Porphyria is wearing helps the
reader know that Porphyria is from an upper-class family. She was wearing a
cloak and shawl, a hat, and gloves. It is apparent that the speaker works for
Porphyria’s family. He lives in a cottage, somewhat distant from the main house.
The cottage is cold until Porphyria warms up the room with her presence and by
stirring up the fire. The way the speaker introduces Porphyria is very unique.
He states that Porphyria “glided” into the room. With this description, the
lover insinuates to the reader that the he sees Porphyria as some kind of angel
who moves swiftly and gracefully across the floor.
The speaker is upset about the party going on in the main house.
Porphyria will be married soon, and he feels that if he were an upper-class
citizen, Porphyria would be able to marry him. There is definitely much love
felt between the two, and the speaker realizes that he will lose Porphyria if he
does not do something. There is a sense of desperation felt by the speaker. He
also feels that society’s rules are very unjust and cruel. At the same time,
though, it seems that the lover does not blame Porphyria for what is unfolding,
but nonetheless, the speaker acts in a cold manner towards her. She, trying to
cheer him up, puts his arm around her waist. During all this time, Porphyria
seems to be happy but not necessarily about seeing her lover. The speaker says:
“Happy and proud; at last I knew/ Porphyria worshipped me;” Unbeknownst to the
speaker, she could have been excited about the party. This also comes to show
that the speaker was out of touch with reality.
During the first part of the poem, Porphyria’s lover is leaning against
her shoulder. He is completely dependent upon her. This is where the lover
shows that he is acting in a very cold manner, but he is actually trying to make
the reader feel sorry for him. Shortly afterwards, he starts explaining the
problem, and states his side of the story. The speaker begins to feel sorry for
himself, and his frustration and fears begin to mount into an expected act of
violence towards Porphyria.
The only thing that Porphyria’s lover can think of is to strangle her
with her own hair. By doing this, he believes that she will be his forever.
The speaker also sees this as the next best thing to marriage. He is completely
out of his mind, and thinks that she does not feel any pain when he strangles
her. Robert Browning does an excellent job in emphasizing that Porphyria’s
lover is not sure if, in fact, Porphyria feels no pain. The speaker states: “No
pain felt she;/ I am quite sure she felt no pain(Barnet 568).” By strangling
Porphyria, the speaker believes that they will be together, and that everything
will be better in the near future. It seems the speaker “witnesses the woman’s
apparently wholehearted love-(and) is also the moment that he attempts to
preserve by killing her (Maxwell 28).” Of course, this theory could not be
further from the truth, and this shows the reader that there is something wrong
with the lover’s state of mind.
Towards the end of the poem, it is Porphyria’s corpse that is leaning on
his shoulder. Her lifeless body is supported by her lover. From this point on,
the speaker’s insanity becomes more evident. The statements that the speaker
makes are by no means believable. He is therefore consciously lying, or
unaware of reality. The lover makes several statements about Porphyria
expressing happiness after she was brutally strangled. The speaker states:
“again/ Laughed the blue eyes without a stain.” There is no way that a lifeless
body could possibly show any signs of life, especially in the eyes. Another
example where the speaker is not trustworthy is where he states: “her cheek once
more/ Blushed bright beneath my burning kiss:” There is no possible way that a
corpse can have blushed bright cheeks. Porphyria’s body was definitely pale.
Porphyria’s lover is so much in love that he cannot think straight. His
words let us know there is something wrong with him. By saying, “And all night
long we have not stirred,/ And yet God has not said a word!” he is not only
saying that what he did is right; he clearly believes that God approves of his
actions. Browning wrote about a religious belief in “Porphyria’s Lover.” John
Agricola was the founder of the Antinomian heresy. His belief is that “a
Christian under the new dispensation was absolved of responsibility which
prevailed under the Mosaic law and hence could not be guilty of sin, however
heinous his acts might be. . . . In the Monthly Repository Browning prefaced
the poem with an explanatory note:
Antinomians, so denominated for rejecting the Law as a
thing of no use under the Gospel dispensation: they say, that
good works do not further, nor evil works hinder salvation; that
the child of God cannot sin, that God never chastiseth him, that
murder, drunkenness, etc. are sins in the wicked but not in him,
that the child of grace being once assured of salvation, afterwards
never doubteth . . . that God doth not love any man for his
holiness, that sanctification is no evidence of justification, etc.
Potanus, in his Catalogue of Heresies, says John Agricola was
the author of this sect, A.D. 1535.- Dictionary of all Religions,
1704. (Crowell 186).”
This statement was printed in order to avoid possible controversy that could
surround the poem’s nature. What it translates to is that Porphyria’s lover was
not responsible for his crime if, in fact, he was a Christian. Brown probably
used this poem as a criticism of this point of view.
“Porphyria’s Lover” builds up to a startling and spine chilling
conclusion. “In the last line (?And yet God has not said a word!’), Browning
builds a finely poised ambiguity which captures both the speaker’s confidence in
the objectivity (he states only what has happened: God has indeed not spoken)
and his growing uncertainty provides neither speaker nor reader with an external
judge, leaving only the speaker’s reconstruction of events: the imposition of
his solipsistic consciousness on the world (Slinn 12).”
Browning’s “Porphyria’s Lover” sets a standard for other poets to follow.
The point of view is very dramatic and dynamic. This poem is very effective in
expressing to people one thing, and letting the reader know the reality of it
all. Although his name is never mentioned, the lover is a unique and memorable
Barnet, Sylvan. Literature for Composition, Third edition. Harper Collins
Publishers. New York, New York. 1992. pp567-568.
Slinn, E. Warwick. Browning and the Fictions of Identity. Barnes & Noble Books.
Totowa, New Jersey. 1982.
Maxwell, Catherine. “Browning’s Porphyria’s Lover.” The Explicator, Fall 1993,
v52, n1, pp27(4).