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 meβ€”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

“A language we all speak…”

Classes have started up again. For the most part, we’ve only met once or twice, but my schedule seems enjoyable. A fun last semester that will also hopefully prove beneficial to any job possibilities.

In line with my school’s policies, as seniors we have to take a final “Core Curriculum” class. The subjects of these classes are varied, and we choose whichever one might appeal to us most. I chose a Psychology (my minor) based class with a former professor with whom I actually did some research and independent study work. The topic is “Families and Society,” and at our introduction class yesterday, we spent much of the time discussing what a ‘family’ is exactly. We began by introducing ourselves and our majors. My professors then had us each relate the topic of Family to our respective fields. As a Core class, she was determined to highlight the importance of our various views and experiences in understanding the subject. To make a long story short(er), ideas and terms were thrown around for an hour or so. Discussion ensued. Afterward much conversing, my teacher decided to make things a little fun and show us film scenes that portrayed families. Her explanation for this was because “Media is a language we all speak.”

This statement was made as just a passing remark, but I immediately wrote it down in my notebook. It’s by no means revolutionary or deeply profound, but I found it interesting. As a Communications major with a focus in Public Relations, I consider the media to be a large part of my field. It is, in fact, my interest in all forms of the media that lead me into this discipline. So, to consider that media, a major study of mine, was a universally understood language was sort to remarkable. During my walk back from the class, I thought more about this small statement that most people didn’t even take notice of. It really is a uniting ‘language’ of sorts. We all use it, acknowledge it, learn from it, accept or disagree with it. It is a part of our everyday lives, no matter where we live or who we are. Only the most remote indigenous tribes can be arguably free from media influence, but even then the difference between our society and theirs is much greater than just a lack of newspapers or television.

Media is universal. While it comes in all forms and language, we all understand it. It’s there and we know why it’s there. Whether we trust it or distrust it, whether we enjoy it or hate it– media truly is a “language we all speak.”

B is for…Blatant Bias

When it comes to school, I’m a bit of a perfectionist. I never used to be this way until college. And now, alas, it is my curse.

So, when I get a bad grade (keep in mind, a bad grade in my sick little world is anything below an A-), I want to know that I at least deserved it. Instead, I am stuck with a dreaded ‘B’ in a class that I can only begin to describe as the worst college experience of my life. Not only was the teacher inexperienced– something that can be understandable if they at least admit their novice position– but she also clearly wasn’t well versed in the subject at hand. A major part of the class, and an aspect she graded us on, was so beyond her ability that she asked another professor to come in and teach class for a couple of days. Now, call me crazy, but I don’t want this same woman who has already admitted her ineptitude in a field to be grading me on that same field.

Her tendency to play favorites was also beyond obvious. We all have favorites– favorite friends, favorite neighbors, favorite relatives. That’s normal and acceptable. However, it is incredibly unacceptable and unprofessional for a professor to act on this favoritism.

Before I explain this specific situation, let me backtrack a few years and explain why I so hate when teachers blatantly favor one student over another. It was 10th grade, English class. I was loud, talkative, and, I’m willing to admit, a bit annoying. Therefore, my teacher did not like me. Understandable. What was not understandable was my inability to get above an 84 on an essay. I wasn’t the best writer, but I was convinced some of my work was worthy of at least a B+. And yet, like clockwork, my essays came back with the dreaded ’84’ on top. Somewhere half way through the semester I started going to my father for help. Gradually, as my grade refused to change, his corrections became more and more intense. Finally, for one of the last essays of the semester, my father practically wrote my paper. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t approve of parents during their kid’s homework, but this was just ridiculous. And, once again, I got an 84. Now let me explain a few things to you. My father is a pretty smart guy, and I’m not just saying that as his daughter. He’s a partner in a law firm. He went to Yale. And, ironically enough, his was an English major. And yet, according to my teacher, his essay was only worthy of an 84 in a 10th grade English class.

Well, I gave up on that futile fight. As I mentioned, grades were less important to me back then. However, ever since then, I’ve had a special hatred of favoritism by teachers (I think this is a good point to mention that I graduated from High School with the superlative “Teacher’s Pet”– I had learned to play the system, but still didn’t approve of it). Now, this inept professor also showed favoritism as extreme as my 10th grade English teacher. When handing back tests one day, she said to one girl that she was “shocked” and “disappointed.” I myself had gotten a similar grade, but did not receive such a comment. Was she simply not shocked at my having done poorly? Did she expect as much from me? And this was only a couple of weeks into the semester. We had gotten no other grades in the class by which she could judge are scholasticism. Later, she had a conversation with this same girl about how people like “them” had a “hard time” and more was expected of them because of their genius. At this point, I would like to call shenanigans. You see, my teacher was far from a genius. As previously mentioned, she didn’t even understand the subject she was teaching.

She just simply didn’t like me. I got a 100 on an exam and when she handed it back she said, “I looked it over 3 times and couldn’t find anything wrong with it.” She was frowning and I detected a blatant disappointment in her not being able to penalize me in some way. When she handed an exam that got a 90 back to an owner that she clearly preferred over me, she said to them a simple “good job,” with a smile on her face. Can you figure out what’s wrong with this picture? (and I’m not saying a 90 isn’t worthy of a ‘good job’)

I am also 99% sure that I got points taken off an essay because I didn’t have time to send her a copy of my rough draft to look over. Instead, my friend who was doing a different essay and had sent in her rough draft, sent me the corrections on hers so I could gauge the corrections I would have to make on my own. Apparently that wasn’t good enough. So what if I put in hours upon hours of work. It was a damn good essay, but not to her. To be perfectly honest, and I swear this isn’t just some low blow, but I’m pretty sure the reason I got points off (though she would never admit to it) is because I used B-I-G words. Oh. Dear. God. What has this world come to?

So yes, I’m peeved. I got a B, which isn’t horrible, but the fact remains that I got it in a class where no actual learning/teaching was done. All the classes got out a half hour early, and most of them had us “doing group work” when we really didn’t have any “group work” to speak of.

If I get a B, I want to have deserved the B. Instead, I had the misfortune of getting a B from a professor who I am completely unable to respect. Listen, the simple truth of it all is that some people are just naturally great teachers, some people can learn to be great teachers, and then some people have no freaking clue what they’re doing and should get out of the field as soon as possible before they anger another group of students (oh yes, there are multiple students who have expressed similar discontent) and lower their GPA (right before graduation, thanks for that). Can you guess which category my teacher fell in?

And now to enjoy a very merry winter break filled with emails and phone calls as I attempt to repeal my grade and ultimately challenge the authority of this professor. Oh joyous occasions.