Compared with “‘My Last Duchess,” this poem has more story and less of the diction of a particular speaker, but one can fairly soon see that the interest in “Porphyria’s Lover” is not only in what happened but also in the speaker’s mind.
His insane egotism led him to attempt to preserve forever Porphyria’s love for him. He believes that although she struggles to offer her love, her weakness (lines 21–25) made her require his assistance. Interestingly, in 6–15 she seemed energetic and efficient; perhaps there is even something a
bit too efficient in making the fire before speaking to her lover. Or are we to remember that we are seeing things through the eyes of a madman (Browning published this poem along with another, under the title of “Madhouse Cells”)?
The speaker’s egotism is tempered with solicitude (41–42, 50–54), making him less monstrous but certainly mad. Inevitably discussion in class centers on the lover’s motives (do we believe them?). Surely he is mad. He apparently kills Porphyria in order to possess her forever—a state of mind seen in many literary works.
It is possible, however, that Porphyria too is unbalanced. At the risk of blaming the victim, can one argue that she must have known what sort of a man the lover was. She regularly visited him, and (according to his account) in this instance without greeting him she tidied up his cabin and then placed his arm around her waist—very odd behavior, one might think. This calls attention to the following passage:
But passion sometimes would prevail,
Nor could tonight’s gay feast restrain
A sudden thought of one so pale
For love of her, and all in vain: . . .
In this view, Porphyria takes delight out of visiting and dominating a man who is very nearly catatonic. My own view
stops well short of this psychoanalytic interpretation of orphyria, but. . . .