Thursday, 10 January 2013

Poetry Reads: Porphyria’s Lover by Robert Browning


There is a premonition of death and bleakness in the poetic setting before Porphyria walks into the room to meet her lover. Spoken in the form of a dramatic monologue something that was quintessentially Robert Browning, this time the narrator, Porphyria’s lover is a sick-in-the-head, insecure and obsessive type of male, a familiar character in society.

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 listened with heart fit to break.
When glided in Porphyria; straight

As if Porphyria knows by instinct about the foreboding gloom she prepares for the fatality.

She shut the cold out and the storm,
She shut the cold out and the storm,
And kneeled and made the cheerless grate
Blaze up, and the entire cottage warm;
Which done, she rose, and from her form
Withdrew the dripping cloak and shawl
And laid her soiled gloves by, untied
Her hat and let the damp hair fall’,

There is no trace of her side of the story; we ought to believe what Porphyria’s lover tells us. He tells us that she speaks of her love for him.

And, last, she sat down by my side
And called me. When no voice replied,
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,
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 forever’.
Porphyria’s confession of love makes the lover happy and contemplates killing her so that she could be his forever.

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.
Be sure I looked up at her eyes
Happy and proud; at last I knew
Porphyria worshipped me; surprise
Made my heart swell, and still it grew
While I debated what to do.
That moment she was mine, mine, fair’,

He decides to possess her forever.

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,
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
Laughed the blue eyes without a stain.
And I untightened next the tress
About her neck; her cheek once more
Blushed bright beneath my burning kiss:
I propped her head up as before,
Only, this time my shoulder bore
Her head, which droops upon it still’:

Porphyria’s lover justifies the murder as if she wanted to be murdered and somehow urged him to murder.

The smiling rosy little head,
So glad it has its utmost will,
That all it scorned at once is fled,
And I, its love, am gained instead!
Porphyria's love: she guessed not how
Her darling one wish would be heard.
And thus we sit together now,
And all night long we have not stirred,
And yet God has not said a word’!

Porphyria’s Lover was published for the first time in 1836 as Porphyria. This poem is a style called Tableau Vivant which means living picture in French. Popular in the Victorian age, this form of art via poetry used humans to mirror actual paintings.

(Review by Kabita Sonowal)

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