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Porphyria's Lover

by Robert Browning

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What does the last stanza in "Porphyria's Lover" by Robert Browning mean?

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“Porphyria’s Lover” by Robert Browning defies the time in which it was written. The Victorian Age was a very prudish time period; consequently, Browning’s topics were not always concerned proper reading.  He was not particularly popular in his lifetime.  Rather than just a love poem, this dramatic monologue presents an unusual grotesque meeting between lovers.

The ending of the poem

And I, its love, am gained instead!
Porphyria's love: she guessed not how
Her darling one wish would be heard.
And thus we sit together now,
And all night long we have not stirred,
And yet God has not said a word!

The final scene of the poem finds the lovers sitting together. The speaker has unwrapped her hair, opened her eyes, and put her head on his shoulder.   It sounds like a normal lovers’ time together.   The scene appears sublime with a storm outside and a warm cozy fire inside. The difference is that one of the lovers is a murderer, and the other is the victim.

The lovers maintain this posture all night, and God says nothing.  God, here, may be the narrator’s conscience which he thinks should make him feel guilty but which clearly, in his psychotic state, does not.  The reference to God does not relate to religion.  The madman feels as though God might give some kind of sign of his discontent with his actions; however, there are no signs from God.  Thus,  the murderer feels justified in the taking of Porphyria’s life.

The unfortunate young man, driven mad by unrequited love, is delighted with the outcome.  In his confused brain, everything has come to a marvelous conclusion, and all is well with the world. The speaker and Porphyria have been sitting all night  in this fashion as though they still are together and in love.

By strangling Porphyria with her own hair, the narrator preserved a moment of perfect love.  The murder is characterized by a simplistic and straightforward act with little emotion or excitement.  The madness of the speaker is sufficiently exposed through his actions. 

The poem is entirely from the point of view of this psychotic killer, which places the reader in the uncomfortable position of reading the thoughts of a madman.  In today’s world, this is exactly the type of literature that sends chills down the spines of the reader.

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