[This is another of my "only uploaded here so I can print it off" things. However, if you really want to use anything in it, go right ahead. ^w^ ]

Porphyria's Lover - Robert Browning

TASK: Choose a poem in which at least part you found disturbing. Explain what disturbs you and discuss to what extent you find the poem effective in its purpose.

Porphyria's Lover, by Robert Browning, is a Victorian dramatic monologue. There are many poetic devices and techniques which allow the reader to gain awareness of the unnamed narrator and help to illustrate themes of obsession and mental illness, shown by the word choice in describing the events of the poem. The most disturbing thing about Porphyria's Lover is that at first glance it seems to be a perfectly normal love poem, until the narrator strangles his lover. The poem may be titled Porphyria's Lover in reference to the disease, Porphyria, in which some of the symptoms are depression, anxiety and paranoia, all of which are recurrent themes in the poem.

Porphyria's Lover opens on pathetic fallacy, during a storm in a woodland cottage. The "sullen wind" doing its best to "vex the lake" paints a scene of desolate storminess, which could be reflected in the narrator's mood. It seems as though the one he's meeting isn't going to turn up, and so, we understandable feel sympathetic towards him, with absolutely no suspicion of any homicidal tendencies. This is not new, however, as "The rain set early in to-night", which indicates that his depressed and bitter state had come on earlier, possibly as the Victorian secret rendezvous may imply this is an affair.

With the entrance of Porphyria, the woman who is meeting him in the wilderness, there is a change in atmosphere:

"She shut the cold out and the storm,

And kneeled and made the cheerless grate

Blaze up, and all the cottage warm"

She is literally sealing up the door and windows to stop the cold from seeping in, igniting the fire to ensure literal warmth, but from a metaphorical viewpoint, the "cheerless grate" may be a reference to his heart and earlier depression. This transferred epithet shows that her mere presence could warm his heart and make him happy.

In the first half of the poem, Porphyria is in control, shown as "she put my arm round her waist" and "made my cheek lie" on her shoulder. Porphyria's sexuality could also be a part of this image of control, as a Victorian lady would never "let the damp hair fall", as letting one's hair down in the company of a man was severely frowned upon. As "she made her smooth white shoulder bare", she pulled her dress to expose her shoulder, which was highly daring of her, especially in an affair such as this. These actions, she would not do if she did not love him, in his mind, therefore her actions may confirm his beliefs that she loves him more than anything. This image is that of a happy couple, which is what makes what happens next so surprising.

On line 21, there is a dash which indicates an ominous and disturbing shift in tone. It is here that he stops being regarded as a 'normal' man and begins thinking of the one he professes to love in a scornful manner, saying she isn't strong enough to completely be with him:

"Too weak, for all her heart's endeavour,

To set its struggling passion free

From pride, and vainer ties dissever,

And give herself to me forever."

She can't give herself to him, though, as she has other commitments that cause him to call her proud and vain of them. She refuses to leave her other background for him, yet "all her heart's endeavour" shows that he's convinced himself that she loves him with all her heart. "But passion sometimes would prevail", as shown by her "gay feast" being left at the thought of him, proves in his mind that her love for him will win overall. However, it's not about passion anymore; she "worshipp'd" him; he's her lover, life, god and all, and her supposed adoration of him is 'proof' of her commitment. He doesn't only want her to be his forever, though, as shown by:

"That moment she was mine, mine, fair,

Perfectly pure and good"

The repetition of "mine" indicates his obsession with her, but not only does he want her to be his forever; he wants to protect this innocent beauty. We still don't expect him to strangle her, though.

The lead-up to Porphyria's murder is short, only six words, and highly simplistic. "I found / A thing to do" indicates no debate or doubts about this being the right thing to do. The actual killing, however, is relatively descriptive, though not in the way we'd expect:

"and all her hair

In one long yellow string I wound

Three times her little throat around,

And strangled her"

He mentions no struggle whatsoever, which is delusional, as the natural human reaction to being strangled with one's own hair is to fight. Therefore, he doesn't want to think that she struggled and blocks this detail out, focussing instead on how her hair wraps around her neck. He has successfully captured this moment of his lover being "Perfectly pure and good", this innocent beauty, just like he intended, though tries to convince himself that "No pain felt she" in an attempt to justify his actions to himself. Although he just strangled her, he doesn't want to hurt her, which is lost in the initial shock of the actual killing. He wasn't doing it for him; he was doing it for her.

Despite the fact that the narrator had been depressed and scornful up until the point of the murder, there were very few indications that he is a psychopath. This is disguised perfectly through the structure of Porphyria's Lover, in a similar manner to a psychopath hiding their true nature from the world. A regular pace with no extremes, similar to regular speech is created with iambic tetrameter, therefore presenting no clues regarding the narrator's abnormality. In fact, the only clue we receive of this is the aforementioned scornful change of tone. The disjointed, chaotic rhyme scheme may perhaps provide a clue for the narrator's state of mind; asymmetrical and disorderly. However, as we look closer at each line, an obvious pattern emerges; ABABB, possibly reflecting on the narrator's mindset; within this madness, there is strict logic which allows him to justify his own actions to himself.

Finally, the last two lines in particular, are highly disturbing, as they show the extent to which he believes he was right in killing her:

"And all night long we have not stirr'd,

And yet God has not said a word!"

He believes God is on his side, despite the commandment "Thou shalt not kill", as God has not come forward and told him it was wrong of him to strangle her. The exclamation mark could indicate an uncaring criminal glee in his actions; he's just happy to have fulfilled her "utmost will". However, use of "yet" may testify to a knowledge that in the future, he will pay for his actions, be it by God or a justice system.

To conclude, Robert Browning's Porphyria's Lover is a highly disturbing dramatic monologue. It is disturbing in that whilst one party is supposedly devoted to the narrator, the narrator responds to this by strangling her, ending her life and immensely shocking the reader. The poem is highly effective in studying both human nature and morality in an extremely disturbing manner. However, the reader is left not knowing whether or not to believe the narrator's psychopathic account, as it is a dramatic monologue narrated by a mentally unstable man. There is something important to be learned from this tragic tale, however, to never allow others to make your decisions for you.