Who is the dominant person in the poem, "Porphyria's Lover" by Robert Browning?

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carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Robert Browning’s poem “Porphyria’s Lover” written in 1836 embraces the shock value of a murdered lover.  Browning’s poem uses a dramatic monologue to tell the story of Porphyria and her lover. 

This was the beginning of the Victorian Era.  Sex and the woman’s body would not be discussed in public forums. This was one of the most “prudish” times in history.   

The speaker of the poem is a psychotic killer who strangles Porphyria with her own blonde hair.  The point of view is first person.

The narrator is the more dominant of the two characters.  Porphyria does defy her family to come to the cottage;  however, it is the speaker who murders his lover and sits with her waiting for God to speak to him.

Summary

The narrator lives in a cottage out in the countryside. His lover is a beautiful and well-endowed young woman. Out of the storm, Porphyria enters the cottage and begins to make a fire.  Her entrance seems to cheer up the cottage.  The lovers embrace with the young woman beginning to seduce the narrator.  The speaker does not say anything to Porphyria. 

The young woman tells the speaker that nothing could keep her from coming to him, not even the exciting party that she was attending. By coming to him, she has gone against the wishes of her parents and friends.

From her words, the speaker realizes that Porphyria adores him.  Wanting to never lose this moment, the madman takes her hair, wraps it around her neck and strangles her.

Spending the rest of the night with the corpse, the narrator opens her eyes; and though she is dead, her eyes seem to laugh. Then, he lets her hair loose from her neck. He props her head against his shoulder and kisses her passionately. Proud that he gave Porphyria her wish that they would be together, the man and the corpse sit silently all night long.

And thus we sit together now,
And all night long we have not stirred,
And yet God has not said a word!

Because of his insanity, the narrator feels justified that he killed Porphyria since God said nothing to him. There are so many questions left unanswered by the poet: the murder’s motivation, his desire, and the cause of the madness. 

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