Porphyria’s Lover Summary
‘Porphyria’s Lover’ is the first short dramatic monologue by Browning. It is uttered by a lover who strangles his beloved to death to eternalize ‘that moment’when she was his –‘perfectly pure and good’. The poem begins by describing astormy night when Porphyria ‘glided in’ and ‘straight/ She shut the cold out and the storm’. She lighted the fire in the grate and then removing her ‘dripping cloak and shawl’, she laid aside her ‘soiled glove’.
She then ‘untied her hat’ and ‘let the damn hair fall’ and sat beside the speaker, calling out to him. ‘When no voice replied’,she put his arm around her waist and made him rest his cheek on her bare ‘smooth white shoulder’ and ‘spread o’er all, her yellow hair’. She murmured ‘how she loved’ him, struggling in her weakness to express her passion, having left behind a ‘gay feast’ to come to him ‘so pale/ For love of her’. She had come to him, giving up pride and ‘vainer ties’.
The speaker then realizes that Porphyria ‘worshipped’ him and surprise made his heart ‘swell’ and he ‘debated what to do’.It was a moment of realization that she was all his – fair,/ Perfectly pure and good’ and he found ‘A thing to do’. He made a string with her long yellow hair and wound ‘three times her little throat around’ and – ‘strangled’ her! In his mad glee at having found the means to stop time at a particular,perfect moment, he feels sure that ‘she felt no pain’. Cautiously he opens her eyelids and found they held no pain, but ‘laughed without a stain’. On untying the hair from around her neck, he finds the colour returning to her cheeks, ‘burning bright beneath ‘his kiss. He ‘propped her head up as before’, but this time it was his shoulder that bore her head. He thinks that ‘the smiling little head’ is happy that all that stood in the way of her love is ‘fled’ and she has gained him, her love.
The speaker feels that Porphyria’s ‘one wish’, that is, to be with him, has been answered and thus they sit together ‘all night long’. The last line –‘And yet God has not said a word!’ –may be an expression of justification for his terrible act.
Analysis of Porphyria’s Lover
The poem Porphyria’s Lover begins with a description of the tumultuous weather of the night when it was raining and windy, and the lover was waiting for Porphyria in a cabin in an unnamed place. She finally arrives and we come to know that she has transcended her class expectations to visit him. She is wet and cold, so she comes near the fire to dry herself. She leans against the narrator and professes her love. The lover looks into her face and realizes that she ‘worshipp’d’ him in this moment. Taken by the purity of the moment, he decides to take her hair and strangle her to death with it. He then assures that she died painlessly. After she dies, he unwinds her hair and lays her corpse out in a graceful pose with her eyes opened and her lifeless head on his shoulder.
He justifies his action by saying that he has done the right thing by murdering her and ends by remarking that God ‘has not yet said a word’ against him.
In Porphyria’s Lover, Robert Browning is dealing with an unstable lover’s passion who is mentally not stable and finally kills his beloved to make her be his own forever.
Like almost all the dramatic monologist of Browning, Porphyria’s lover too is an obsessive neurotic character who is self-obsessed and thinks that his way of thought and action are justified in every sense. Therefore, we find no sense of remorse in the lover even after he kills his lovely beloved. Moreover, he proudly pronounces that he is quite justified in what he has done. The monologue is occasioned by the fact that he has committed the murder and therefore is at a critical juncture of his life when he needs to get into a dramatic monologue. He needs to reassure himself while reassuring the readers that what he has done is no crime. Like the Duke of My Last Duchess, the lover here claims his superiority and in that tone claims his innocence.
The interesting fact is that the logic that he provides for his act of murder is that women are transgressive in nature. This idea is nothing new. Patriarchy has always believed that women have always tried to break free of the clutches of males to discover themselves. Furthermore, patriarchy believes that women, as they are of inferior intellect than men, should be under the guidance of men. Many a time during the history of mankind we have seen that women are treated as inferior citizens only because of their gender. The view that women have the propensity to become infidels, if not checked by males, is taken a step further by the neurotic lover of Porphyria as he decides to end her life at a moment when the beloved is showing her fidelity so that the moment of fidelity gets fixed forever and she does not get a chance to show her infidelity.
The logic of the lover is absurd—but all Browning’s dramatic monologists use this kind of absurd logic as Browning’s monologues deal with the absurdity of the passions of abnormal characters. It is this absurdity that makes Browning’s dramatic monologues so interesting and intriguing. One needs to keep in mind here that no matter how absurd the lover might sound in his logic; it is based on the patriarchal construction which allows the women to be seen as secondary. Therefore, the absurdity does not only lie in the lover’s part but in the whole of patriarchy and its ways of gender stereotyping. There is nothing in women which makes them born infidel; there is nothing in them which makes them a secondary and second grade. However, patriarchy prefers to think so as that is the way males can rule over females. In the larger context of world politics, this is what is happening when feminist movements across the world are questioning males for their limited mindset.
From this point of view, it would be unfair to call Browning a patriarchal male-chauvinist writer as he is deliberately portraying these kinds of characters in his monologues to make readers aware of how with dubious constructions about gender they are living their life without insight and reflection. From that point of view, Browning’s dramatic monologues are not merely beautiful pieces of poetry but at the same time upholds a social message—to question the patriarchal constructions.