profile of woman surrounded by flames staring in terror with her hair menacingly wrapped around her throat

Porphyria's Lover

by Robert Browning

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What is your critical appreciation of "Porphyria's Lover" by Robert Browning?

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"Porphyria's Lover" was quite subversive for its time (and to an extent, still is) but prose writers of Browning's Victorian England were also dabbling in Gothic literature and horror. This is one of many examples where Browning shared more with his contemporary prose writers than with his contemporary poets.

The poem is a dramatic monologue which means the speaker addresses someone (perhaps himself, God, the reader, or some other) and his words and thoughts indicate to the reader his character and/or state of mind. The ababb rhyme scheme and occasional enjambment (lines which grammatically carry over from one line to the next) establish a subtly odd phrasing which parallels the subtle ways Browning establishes the state of mind of the speaker (we get subtle clues but are taken by surprise with the murder).

The poem is about the speaker murdering his lover, Porphyria, by strangling her with her own hair. This poem is an exercise in considering madness, the potential link between violence and sex, and the psychological impact love can have (in this case, on an insane speaker; however, the reader is also left to wonder if the speaker is not insane, perhaps merely a liar).

The calm, casual way the speaker describes the murder is strange, reflecting the warped mind of the speaker. And the event of the murder seems to come out of nowhere unless we consider that the murder is a shift of dominance. When Porphyria comes in, she is active and the speaker is passive.

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, (16-19).

Notice that she physically controls his movements and "makes" his cheek lie. The speaker, mad with love and insecurity, sees a moment where he can become the dominant figure in their love and takes it, and this takes the reader by surprise. He waits until the "moment she was mine, mine, fair,/Perfectly pure and good." Therefore, he can be with her in this so called "perfect" state forever.

"Porphyria's Lover" is similar to Poe in its treatment of Gothic subjects. And some critics claim that a full analysis of this poem along the lines of Gothic horror has been overlooked. Check the third link below for an analysis which posits that the speaker is not really insane; he kills Porphyria believing she is a vampire. This interpretation is a bit of a stretch, but horror was a contemporary subject in Browning's time. For example,Frankensteinwas published in 1818, Poe lived from 1809-1849, and "Porphyria's Lover" first appeared in 1836.

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Attempt a critical appreciation of Robert Browning's 'Prophyria's Lover'.

In order to compose a critical appreciation of this poem, you will need to analyze it in terms of its figurative language, imagery, structure, and central purpose (or theme) as well as any other poetic devices or elements that seem significant to the way it makes meaning and conveys a message. You can also assess how effective you feel these elements are in conveying a particular message or theme. This appreciation should be formatted like any argumentative essay: an introduction with a thesis statement, topic sentences and evidence to support that thesis, and a conclusion which sums up your main ideas and discusses their significance.

Certainly mood seems to be a fruitful area for analysis of this text. The narrator establishes a dark, sad, and even an eerie mood in the first few lines with the references to "rain" and "night" and a "sullen wind" that tears down the trees "for spite" and "vex[es] the lake," all of which made his "heart fit to break." Although Porphyria seems almost angelic when she enters, or rather "glides" into, the room, lighting a fire that makes the "cottage warm" again, she has evidently come to break off her relationship with the narrator. The weather helps to establish the mood of the poem, and it seems to echo first the narrator's feelings and then Porphyria's.

The rhyme scheme, on the other hand, actually seems almost deceptive. The lines rhyme in an ababb cdcdd efeff ghghh (and so on) pattern. The simplicity of the end rhyme makes the poem seem as though it might address a lighter topic. But the repetition of the final sounds at the end of each grouping of lines (the bb at the end of the ababb group, for example) seems to push the poem forward, to propel it onward to the next grouping of lines, as though the narrator—and we—are caught up in a chain of events that escalates alarmingly quickly and in unexpected ways.

Thus, irony would be another rich area to explore here. Irony occurs when there is a discrepancy between what we expect and what actually happens. Certainly, when we hear that the narrator loves Porphyria, we would not expect him to kill Porphyria as a result of that love. We would not expect a person to murder the one they love just to keep that person near them. Further, the idea of murdering someone with their own hair seems an especially brutal way to go about it, and this ought to shock us as well. Then, what does it say about the narrator that he seems not to understand that he has not found a happy solution to the couple's problem? The narrator seems to believe that even God condones their actions.

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Attempt a critical appreciation of Robert Browning's 'Prophyria's Lover'.

Browning's 'Porphyria's Lover' is a dramatic monologue which means it is written in the first person allowing us to see into the mind of the speaker. Clearly as the speaker is a murderer this is interesting to us as it allows us to see his motivation.

It appears that Porphria is attached to another; 'vainer ties dissever' and the speaker is jealous of this and wants to keep her to himself; the only way he can do this is to kill her so she cannot leave. The killing does not appear to be planned; in fact it is chillingly casual 'I found/A thing to do' and the speaker does not seem to feel any remorse or guilt. He feels that he has got away with it; 'And yet God has not said a word!' He has attemped to 'freeze' a perfect moment and has done so.      

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