Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings...©
Lover” is a dramatic monologue, a poem that presents a moment in which
the speaker (narrator) discusses a topic and, in so doing, reveals his
feelings and state of mind to a listener or the reader. Only the narrator
talks—hence the term monologue, meaning single (mono) discourse
(logue). The main focus of a dramatic monologue is the personal
information about the speaker, not his topic. A dramatic monologue is a
type of character study.
Lover” first appeared with the title "Porphyria" in the January issue of
Monthly Repository for 1836, published in London by Charles Fox. In
the same city, Ward, Lock & Company, Ltd., republished the poem in
1842 in Bells and Pomegranates, a collection of Browning' poems.
In the 1842 volume, the work appeared as one of two poems sharing the title
“Madhouse Cells.” In 1863, Browning changed the title of the poem to “Porphyria's
action in the poem takes place on a stormy evening in a cottage at an unidentified
locale. The time is the 1830s.
A man who welcomes his beloved's show of affection for him but kills her
a moment later.
Porphyria: The narrator's
falls and high winds blow while the speaker (narrator) of the poem sits
in a room in his cottage, depressed. In walks Porphyria, quickly shutting
the door on the storm. After stoking the fire and warming the room, she
removes her wet cloak, shawl, gloves, and hat. Then she sits next to the
speaker and addresses him. When he does not reply, she places his arm around
her waist and draws his head to her shoulder. Her yellow hair falls over
tells him that she loves him. In the past, she has been reluctant to free
her passion from her pride “and give herself to me forever,” the speaker
says. But this night, the speaker says, she realizes that he is "pale /
For love for her” (lines 28-29) and decides to brave the storm to visit
him and tell him that she loves him. Her expression of her feelings for
him makes "my heart swell" (line 34), he says. His elation grows as he
considers how to respond to her.
moment she was mine, mine, fair, / Perfectly pure and good. . . " (lines
36-37), he says.
here is what he does. He takes a string of her hair, winds it around her
throat three times, and strangles her. She did not suffer, he says. Of
that he is sure. When he unwinds the hair, color returns to her cheeks
as he kisses her. He props her up and puts her head on his shoulder.
now, he thinks, her will is done, and “she guessed not how / Her darling
one wish would be heard” (lines 56-57).
they sit there all through the night. All the while, he feels no guilt
for killing her, noting, “And yet God has not said a word.” The reader
is left with the impression that the narrator is a psychopath.
rain set early in to-night,
sullen wind was soon awake,
tore the elm-tops down for spite,
did its worst to vex the lake:1
listened with heart fit to break.
glided in Porphyria; straight
shut the cold out and the storm,
kneeled and made the cheerless grate
up, and all the cottage warm;
done, she rose, and from her form
the dripping cloak and shawl,
laid her soiled gloves by, untied
hat and let the damp hair fall,
last, she sat down by my side
called me. When no voice replied,
put my arm about her waist,
made her smooth white shoulder bare
all her yellow hair displaced,
stooping, made my cheek lie there,
spread, o'er all, her yellow hair,
how she loved me—she
weak, for all her heart's endeavor,
set its struggling passion free
pride, and vainer ties dissever,
give herself to me forever.
passion sometimes would prevail,
could to-night's gay feast2
sudden thought of one so pale
love of her, and all in vain:
she was come through wind and rain.
sure I looked up at her eyes
and proud; at last I knew
worshiped me; surprise
my heart swell, and still it grew
I debated what to do.
moment she was mine, mine, fair,
pure and good: I found
thing to do, and all her hair
one long yellow string I wound
times her little throat around,
strangled her. No pain felt she;3
am quite sure she felt no pain.
a shut bud that holds a bee,4
warily oped her lids: again
the blue eyes without a stain.
I untightened next the tress
her neck; her cheek once more
bright beneath my burning kiss:
propped her head up as before,
this time by shoulder bore
head, which droops upon it still:
smiling rosy little head,
glad it has its utmost will,
all it scorned at once is fled,
I, its love, am gained instead!
love: she guessed not how
darling one wish would be heard.
thus we sit together now,
all night long we have not stirred,
yet God has not said a word!
1-4: The narrator seems to project his feelings onto nature.
feast: Porphyria may have been attending a social event. Then, thinking
of the narrator, she left it and came to him.
. .she: The narrator has convinced himself that Porphyria did not suffer.
. . . bee: A dangling modifier that mars the poem. This clause attempts
to modify the pronoun I
at the beginning of line 44, turning the narrator into the "shut bud that
holds the bee."
leading his readers to believe that "Porphyria's Lover" is a poem about
a typical romantic encounter, Browning shocks them with an unexpected event:
The narrator's calm and dispassionate strangulation of Porphyria.
the narrator's deep mental distress—referred to in line 5—causes him to
cross the border from sanity to insanity. (Or perhaps he was always mad
but retained enough control to mask his derangement.) Believing that Porphyria's
show of affection for him indicates that she wishes to “give herself to
me forever” (line 25), he makes it easy for her to remain at his side.
He simply kills her. Then he props her head on his shoulder and sits with
her all through the night. They become a tableau vivant.
themes emerge from the poem. The first is this: Some people really can
be "madly in love." It is not at all uncommon for a person in love to exhibit
bizarre behavior, sometimes out of fear of losing the beloved; a man or
woman may even resort to violence against the beloved to prevent such a
loss. In "Porphyria's Lover," the narrator is madly in love not only figuratively
but also literally; he is psychopath. The second theme is this: Shocking,
unexpected behavior is part of life. Not infrequently, seemingly normal
and harmless people turn out to be child molesters, rapists, serial killers,
and so on.
may have noticed that dictionaries define porphyria as a group of
diseases characterized by sensitivity to sunlight as well as other symptoms,
such as skin blisters and anemia. This information might have led you to
conclude Porphyria had this disease and that the narrator murdered her
to end her suffering. But such a conclusion would be wrong. Here is why.
Browning wrote the poem in 1836. Porphyria was not identified and named
as a disease until 1874.
may have based the name Porphyria on the Greek word for purple,
Since ancient times, purple has been associated with royalty, as attested
to by the purple robes worn by kings and queens. It may well be that the
narrator calls his beloved Porphyria to indicate that he considers her
a regal figure who has been out of his reach—until the stormy night when
she comes to him and confesses her love.
rhyme scheme is ABABB (lines 1-5), BCBCC (lines 6-10), DEDEE (lines
11-15), and so on. In other words, in each set of five lines, the first
line rhymes with the third, and the second line rhymes with the fourth
but three of the end rhymes are masculine rather than feminine. Masculine
rhyme occurs when only the final syllable of a line rhymes with the final
syllable of another line, as in still
and will (lines 51 and 53) and
fled, and instead
(lines 52, 54, 55). Feminine rhyme occurs when the final two syllables
of one line rhyme with the final two syllables of another line, as in endeavor,
(lines 22, 24, 25). The dominance of masculine rhyme helps to underscore
the narrator's fatal conquest of Porphyria.
also also included occasional internal rhyme in the poem, as in the following
And kneeled and
made the cheerless grate
and vainer ties dissever (line 21)
And I untightened next
the tress (line 46
meter in the poem consists mainly of iambic tetrameter, as the first four
lines of the poem demonstrate,
the poem consists of one long stanza, it contains two distinct sections,
Browning presents what appears to be a traditional romantic love poem while
making Porphyria the active character and the narrator the passive.
Lines (31-60): Browning
turns the poem into a tale of horror while making the narrator the active
character and Porphyria the passive.
his poetry, Browning occasionally uses enjambment, a literary device in
which the sense of one line of verse is carried over to the next line without
a pause. Here is an example:
When glided in Porphyria;
Notice that straight
belongs with the words that follow it, not with the words that precede
it. Consequently, no pause occurs after it. Here are other examples of
She shut the cold out and
the storm (lines 6-7)
And laid her soiled
gloves by, untied
Her hat and let the damp
hair fall (lines 12-13)
Porphyria worshiped me; surprise
Made my heart swell, and
still it grew (lines 33-34)
time to time in "Porphyria's Lover," Browning uses anastrophe, the
inversion of the normal word order. A man forgotten
(instead of a forgotten man) is an example of anastrophe. Anastrophe
not only adds a poetic ring to verses but also helps the poet complete
his rhymes. Examples from the poem include the following:
When glided in Porphyria
(When Porphyria glided
all her hair
In one long yellow string
Three times her little throat
And strangled her. No pain
felt she (lines 38-41)
(I wound all her hair
in one yellow string three times around her little throat)
(She felt no pain)
are examples of figures of speech in the poem. (For definitions of figures
of speech, click here.)
awake (line 2)
how she loved me (line 21)
heart swell, and still
it grew (line 34)
I am quite sure
felt no pain (line 42)
my burning kiss (line 48)
darling one wish
be heard (line 57)
thus we sit together now,
all night long we have not stirred,
yet God has not said a word! (lines 58-60)
The narrator's behavior
suggests that the speaker is insane. However, he himself apparently believes
he is normal.
brings warmth to the cottage by stoking the fire
and offering the narrator
her love, the narrator coldly kills her.
The narrator is pale but
alive. Porphyria is rosy but dead.
Because Porphyria is "perfectly
pure and good," the
narrator kills her.
The narrator has committed
a monstrous deed. However, he
thinks he has made Porphyria
happy, believing she wanted to
die in order to be with
him forever. He says, "The smiling rosy
little head, / So glad it
has its utmost will."
The sullen wind
was soon awake,
It tore the elm-tops down
for spite (lines 2-3)
The wind exhibits human
As a shut bud that
holds a bee (line 43)
Comparison of Porphyria's
closed eye to a bud
The smiling rosy
Questions and Writing Topics
So glad it
has its utmost will (lines52-53)
The head stands for the
Do you agree that the narrator
is insane? If you do not, explain why you disagree?
Is the narrator describing the
incident as it happened? Or is he distorting information. Explain your
Write a dramatic monologue on
a subject of your choice.
Write an essay comparing and
contrasting the narrator of "Porphyria's Lover" with the narrator of "My
Last Duchess," another Browning poem.