The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Porphyria’s Lover” is a sixty-line poem of irregular iambic tetrameter with an ababb rhyme scheme, a pattern which continues through the poem’s twelve five-line divisions. It is believed to be Robert Browning’s earliest study in abnormal psychology. It is perhaps more accurately termed a soliloquy or an inner monologue than a dramatic monologue, since it identifies no specific auditor. The term “dramatic” more aptly describes many of Browning’s later poems, in which the tension arises from the drama that builds as the speaker unwittingly reveals himself to a specifically identified listener present in the poem. The fact that Browning called the poem “dramatic” is probably explained by his reaction to reviews that had ridiculed his earliest work as too subjective. After these, he insisted that readers see his poetry as objective by distinguishing between his personal self (the poet) and the voices of his fictive speakers in his monologues. He did not want critics to think these created speakers expressed the poet’s personal emotions.

The title leads one to expect a love relationship, perhaps two lovers in a cozy cottage retreating from the storm described in the opening lines. However, the perceptions reported by the speaker (the “lover”) soon alert the reader to his unbalanced perspective. This speaker attributes attitudes and willful actions to the wind: It is “sullen,” it has torn the elm trees “for spite,”...

(The entire section is 514 words.)