Stumbled Upon: “Porphyria’s Lover”


Growing up in a family like mine, a love of literature was engrained in me from a young age. Therefore, despite a Comm Major and Psych Minor, I’ve filled my course electives with Literature classes (I was supposed to fulfill a Lit Minor as well, but due to a misunderstanding, this unfortunately fell through). My current Lit class, that I’ve been thoroughly enjoying, is a British Literature Course. We read a variety of work, and my greatest regret is that we lack the proper amount of time to really dive into some of the pieces. Today, however, I was thankful that we spent the majority of the class discussing a new favorite poem of mine.

While best known in his day for being the husband of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Robert Browning has since cultivated a large following. His poems often feature a dramatic monologue and psychologically jarring scenes. The poem “Porphyria’s Lover” (1843) is a perfect example of his masterful techniques.

While the subject of “Porphyria’s Lover” is morbid and disturbing, I found this work to be incomparably interesting. My mind raced with backstories and explanations. Our class discussion focused on identifying motive and answering the ever-present: “Why?”

If you haven’t read the poem, you haven’t the slightest idea of what I’m talking about right now. Therefore, I’ve decided to share the poem as just a little something I’ve “stumbled upon.” I’d love to hear other people’s to this psychological thriller of a poem.


 

Porphyria’s Lover

Robert Browning

THE rain set early in to-night,
The sullen wind was soon awake,
It tore the elm-tops down for spite,
And did its worst to vex the lake:
I listen’d with heart fit to break. 5
When glided in Porphyria; straight
She shut the cold out and the storm,
And kneel’d and made the cheerless grate
Blaze up, and all the cottage warm;
Which done, she rose, and from her form 10
Withdrew the dripping cloak and shawl,
And laid her soil’d gloves by, untied
Her hat and let the damp hair fall,
And, last, she sat down by my side
And call’d me. When no voice replied, 15
She put my arm about her waist,
And made her smooth white shoulder bare,
And all her yellow hair displaced,
And, stooping, made my cheek lie there,
And spread, o’er all, her yellow hair, 20
Murmuring how she loved me—she
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 for ever. 25
But passion sometimes would prevail,
Nor could to-night’s gay feast restrain
A sudden thought of one so pale
For love of her, and all in vain:
So, she was come through wind and rain. 30
Be sure I look’d up at her eyes
Happy and proud; at last I knew
Porphyria worshipp’d me; surprise
Made my heart swell, and still it grew
While I debated what to do. 35
That moment she was mine, mine, fair,
Perfectly pure and good: I found
A thing to do, and all her hair
In one long yellow string I wound
Three times her little throat around, 40
And strangled her. No pain felt she;
I am quite sure she felt no pain.
As a shut bud that holds a bee,
I warily oped her lids: again
Laugh’d the blue eyes without a stain. 45
And I untighten’d next the tress
About her neck; her cheek once more
Blush’d bright beneath my burning kiss:
I propp’d her head up as before,
Only, this time my shoulder bore 50
Her head, which droops upon it still:
The smiling rosy little head,
So glad it has its utmost will,
That all it scorn’d at once is fled,
And I, its love, am gain’d instead! 55
Porphyria’s love: she guess’d not how
Her darling one wish would be heard.
And thus we sit together now,
And all night long we have not stirr’d,
And yet God has not said a word! 60
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