Browning was born in London, to a family who relished literature, and he grew up surrounded by books. He wrote his first book of poems before he was 12 – but destroyed them as an adult to make sure no-one could publish them! Browning devoted himself to poetry, and initially had to live at home and be supported by his parents to do so.
He married another poet, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, who was rather more popular and successful than him. They were able to live together on her inherited wealth. Borrowing’s dramatic monologues are often narrated by very sinister characters, and the reader must piece together what the truth of the story is. My Last Duchess and Porphyry’s Lover both fall into this category. Porphyry’s Lover was the first short dramatic monologue that Browning wrote, and was one of the first of his poems to feature a character with psychosis.
The woman in the poem is named after a disease called Porphyry. It is a rare type of disease, which can result in madness of some kind. This has led some people to interpret the poem as a metaphor for dealing with this disease. It was first identified a few years before the poem was written. Us object matter The poem is a narrative of a murder, told calmly and callously. On a stormy night the apparently depressed narrator is sitting alone in a cold and dark cottage. Out of the storm the girl he loves, Porphyry, arrives and makes up the fire.
She sits beside him but he won’t speak. She tells him she loves him and rests her head on his shoulder, arranging his arm around her waist. He was “so pale/For love of her” and thought she didn’t love him. He is delighted to discover that she loves him. In that perfect moment he decides to kill her, traveling her with her own hair. When she is dead he props her up on his shoulder in the same position as before. There they sit for the whole night. Form and structure Porphyry’s Lover is a dramatic monologue written in the first person.
The regular rhyme scheme follows an BABY pattern throughout, and the poem is written in one long section. Some critics have suggested the regular rhyme scheme reflects a calm heartbeat. It has also been suggested that the asymmetrical rhyme scheme reflects the unbalanced character of the narrator. Certainly the complete regularity of it reflects the narrators illness in his violence. There is a mirrored Structure to the events in the poem. In the first half, Porphyry arranges the narrators physical form, putting his “arm about her waist”.
After he has killed her, he arranges her back in the position in which she had been sitting. This might reflect the paradox that he loves her but he kills her. Language and Imagery The word “and” is used repeatedly throughout the poem, creating a sense of the events of the poem happening one after the other, almost as if they are inevitable once Porphyry has arrived. Imagery The poem opens with a strong sense of pathetic fallacy: the reconsider “sullen wind” tearing down the trees, and the rain battering down.
Initially it seems as if this reflects only the mood of the narrator, but later it may take on greater significance. When Porphyry arrives, she makes up the fire and warms the cottage, transforming the “cheerless grate”, which seems as if it would reflect the love of the pair. Her arrival “shut the cold out”; this seems true on a literal and a metaphorical level ? it is the storm and his unhappiness that she shuts out. Porphyry’s “yellow hair” is a recurring image in the poem, as she spreads it over the narrator’s shoulder as she sits next to IM.
In the first section of the poem her hair is mentioned three times in the space of eight lines, emphasizing its importance to the poem’s narrator. It is hardly surprising when he uses it as “one long yellow string” to strangle her. It is a sensual image, particularly in contrast to her bare shoulder. When she IS alive, Porphyry is pale, with her “smooth white shoulder bare”. Once he had killed her, her cheek “blushed bright” on her “smiling rosy little head”. This seems in line with the narrators belief that he has given Porphyry what she wanted by killing her.
Similarly her dead eyelid becomes “as a shut bud that olds a bee”. The use of a natural simile seems to make her seem still alive and indeed her eyes still “laughed” when he pries open her eyelids. This seems to contradict what we might expect, and adds to the rather sinister cheerfulness of the end of the poem. The narrator appears to think that he has given Porphyry her heart’s desire, her “darling one wish”. Sound The regularity of the rhyme complements the cold calm attitude Of the narrator, and both contrast with the horribleness of the crime.
Attitudes, themes and ideas There is a certain sensuality in the presentation of Porphyry – her bare holder and long hair, for example. It also seems that her love might be transgressing against her position in society, since to be with her lover, she must struggle to set her “passion free/from pride”. Is her death a punishment for this offence? In some Victorian literature that might be the case, but it doesn’t seem as if Browning is trying to convey a moral in this poem; the narrator simply seems insane.
The mirroring of the structure might extend a mirroring between her sensuality as she removes her wet clothes, and his violence as he kills her. The poet might perhaps be making a point about hat was seen as fit to be written about in Victorian England: the poem is extremely sensational, despite its deadpan delivery. The final line is also an interesting one: “And yet God has not said a word! ” The narrator may be suggesting that what he has done is not a sin, because God has not objected. This might be just another indication of madness, with delusions of grandeur because God should speak to him.
Some critics have interpreted it as a promotion of atheism [atheist: Someone who doesn’t believe in any god or religion. ] . Assuming that the narrator does love Porphyry, why would he kill her? He seems to want to hold her in a perfect moment, so that they can be “happy” together. He had thought that she did not return his love, that it was “in vain”, but he discovered she “worshipped me”. The repetition that in “that moment she was mine, mine” emphasizes why he would want to keep her in that perfect instant.
It is not sane, but it has a twisted logic. The idea of Porphyry being the narrator’s possession suggests something about the way in which he regards women. Sample task Examine how Shakespeare presents the treatment of women in A Midsummer Night’s Dream Examine how this theme is revealed in poetry, for example in Borrowing’s Porphyry’s Lover. Refer to other poems from the poetry selection in your response. What is your response to the pieces of literature you have read? Make links between the ways the writers have considered and presented the theme.
Women are presented as being very much in the control and power of men in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. A woman’s choice of husband is down to her father, as we see in the arguments presented to Duke Theses in the opening scenes, where Segues demands his rights to “dispose” of his daughter as he wishes, or”her death, according to our law. The physical dominance of men contributes to this, as Duke Theses tells Happily: “l wood thee with my sword. ” There is a sense in which women are treated as being property, and therefore capable of being arranged according to men’s convenience.
This theme is also explored inappropriate Lover by Robert Browning, in which the narrator repeats the word”mine” to emphasis his possession of her. While in A Midsummer Niches Dreamed arrange the events of women’s lives for their convenience, in Porphyry’s Lover, it is the woman’s actual body which is arranged, in a grotesque caricature of the power which men hold over women. In both Porphyry’s Lover and A Midsummer Night’s Dream we get a sense of the real danger which women can be in if men do not treat them with care.
Porphyry obviously trusts her lover, which puts her in the position of being vulnerable to him, so that she is killed. Although we do not get this excess in the comedy of A Midsummer Nights Dream, Hermit does belatedly realism that she may have put herself in danger (for her reputation and potentially her chastity if not her life) in going into the forest with Alexander, begging him “Lie further Off yet, do not lie so near” when they go to sleep. Similarly the metaphor of the hunter and the deer in Sir Thomas Watt’s Whoso List to Hunt, emphasizes the way in which women can be treated as prey.
There is also a great deal of manipulation of women, their emotions and their behavior in A Midsummer Nights Dream. Oberon manipulates, through puck, all the lovers, but particularly his wife, in order to alter her decision not to give him the Indian boy. Borrowing’s narrator does not just manipulate Porphyry physically, in terms of arranging her body when he propped her head up, he also manipulates her emotionally. This can be seen from the peeing of the poem, in which he sits pale and unresponsive to her speech, while she has come through the storm to see him because she cannot bear to see him unhappy.
Yet worsen can be treated as idols too: Porphyry is killed to preserve as being”perfectly fair and good. I’ The deer in Whoso List to Hunt is garlanded with a diamond collar (although this is double-edged as a symbol of control, too). In A Midsummer Night’s Dream the juice of love-in- idleness causes both Alexander and Demerits to idols Helena, who perceives this as ‘keen mockery”, demonstrating that being treated as an idol s not necessarily any better than being ignored.
Christina Walsh’s poem A woman to her lover shows a female poet’s anger at being treated as a “wingless angel” who can “do no wrong”. In both A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Porphyry’s Lover (as well as Whoso List to Hunt) being treated as an idol is tainted by a sense that that treatment also brings danger or being put in someone else’s power. This is not confined to women: Bottom becomes Titanic’s comic idol, but although he enjoys it, he is also mocked, by both fairies and the audience, suggesting it’s not a comfortable position for him either.