Speaker Point of View
Who is the speaker, can she or he read minds, and, more importantly, can we trust her or him? The speaker of "Porphyria's Lover" sounds awfully straightforward. His tone is incredibly reasonable, which makes it even creepier considering he's describing horrific things (such as strangling his girlfriend and cuddling with the corpse). He even makes it sound as though he was doing her a favour – he calls it "her darling one wish" (line 57). It's hard to tell from the speaker's language that he's off his rocker, since he speaks very smoothly and matter-of-factly. The rhyme scheme remains steady, and the meter is pretty regular (except for a few places – check out "Form and Meter" for some telling exceptions). What kind of psychopathic murderer would be able to describe his crimes so calmly? Thus, the calm, smooth tone of the speaker adds to the effect of the poem. The speaker is kind of like the killer in the movie Seven: he doesn't think he's done anything wrong, and that's part of what makes him so terrifying. Porphyria's Lover Setting
The poem takes place in a house near a lake, probably out in the country somewhere. There are trees around, and it's probably a pretty nice place to visit when the weather's good. Too bad the weather's so crummy on the night the poem takes place. It's raining and so windy that the speaker imagines that the wind is consciously trying to break down trees out of "spite" (line 3). The speaker doesn't tell us much about what the inside of the house looks like. There's no fire in the "grate" until Porphyria arrives, so the house is probably pretty cold. If there's no fire, there must not be any servants (most middle class Victorians kept at least one servant), so the speaker might be relatively poor. After all, the house is described as a "cottage" (line 9). Porphyria sure does a lot to cheer up the inside of the house, though! The fire makes everything all cosy. It doesn't seem all that bad – a nice cosy cottage with a bright fire on a rainy night. Seems like the perfect time and place to curl up with your significant other and cuddle by the fire, right? Sure, until the speaker decides that it's also the perfect time and place to strangle Porphyria to death with her own hair. The Storm
The speaker of "Porphyria's Lover" opens by describing the storm outside. Oddly, he describes the storm with adjectives that suggest that the weather is conscious of what it's doing. A Victorian critic named John Ruskin scathingly ridiculed this literary move, in which the outside world is described in a way that reflects the inner mood of a character. He called it the "pathetic fallacy." After all, Ruskin pointed out, the weather isn't conscious of whether we're in a good mood or not. It's not like it starts raining just because we're heartbroken, or turns sunny and warm the moment we fall in love. Writing poems or novels in which the weather reflects the inner state of the characters, Ruskin argued, is just bad craftsmanship. Line 2: The words "sullen" and "awake" personify the weather. It's not like the wind can literally feel "sullen," nor was it asleep before it started to pick up. Line 3: More of what Ruskin calls the "pathetic fallacy": the wind doesn't actually feel "spite" when it tears up the trees. Browning just decided to personify it again. Line 4: And now the lake is being personified. You can't really "vex," or irritate, a body of water, no matter how hard you splash it. Line 7: Porphyria has some kind of power over the storm – she is able to "shut [it] out" almost instantaneously. The speaker doesn't describe her actions – only their effects. Eyes
There's not a lot of talking in this poem. Porphyria doesn't get any direct dialogue, and the entire poem is the speaker's (possibly internal) monologue. Eyes do most of the talking in "Porphyria's Lover." Let's see what they say… Lines 31-32: The speaker does something active for the first time in the poem!...
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