Summary of Porphyria’s Lover by Robert Browning

The summary of Porphyria’s Lover by Robert Browning pen pictures a lover who is all alone by himself in his house as the night heralds a storm. His lady love, Porphyria comes over to his place drenched in rain and lights the fireplace to warm her. Soon after, she begins to snuggle with the lover who gets to realize for the first time how much she loves him. The lover holds her close and in a moment of passion and untrammeled emotion, he strangles her with her hair. Soon after, he makes her eyes open, slowly unwraps her hair from the neck and then spends the rest of the rest holding and cuddling with her dead body.

The striking setting of the poem is perhaps one of the masterpieces ever created in English literature; Robert Browning and his sheer genius is made to realize people how preserving something eternally is always a fatal act, which happens to be the idea of Porphyria’s Lover by Robert Browning.

From the very first stanza of the poem, the poet sets the base right for the string of events to take place, especially with the mentioning of a dark and stormy atmosphere which creates the much needed surrounding for a horrific thing to take place. Besides, Robert Browning also introduces twists in his poem when he drops in words like “sullen” and “spite” which let the readers imagine that anything frightful is about to happen.

What makes Porphyria a mysterious entrant in the poem is how she enters into the picture with almost no introduction, as if she just sleep walks into the poem.  This mood is in sharp contrast with the speaker of the poem; the lover who has been sitting all alone all this while and the readers have no clue as to what he is doing or thinking.Porphyria tells her lover how much she loves him but her lover almost cuts her off with “vainer ties”. The trick here, all wordplay is constrained within the monologue which makes it obvious that the lover is not saying these things aloud. Here, Porphyria too is hesitant enough to sleep with the speaker which might point at Victorian codes of social discipline that had prevented many to keep away from physical intimation entering the wedlock.

The theme of Porphyria’s Lover by Robert Browning is mooted when we find the speaker of the poem continuing to maintain a passive state of mind all throughout the poem. He is even the same when, he finds himself at dismay to have discovered how willingly or unwillingly he has put his beloved to rest forever. The entire conversation in the poem is made to flow from the speaker’s point of view. Hence, he is delighted when he realizes how much she loves him and is taken aback by all altering thoughts that might have crossed his mind when he had been sitting alone.

When Porphyria says she wants to “worship”him, the speaker looks up to her eyes and is realizes that Porphyria would remain only his and nobody else’s. The speaker repeats “mine” which emphasizes his possession that makes the moment appear “perfect” to him and something that he would want to eternalize. It is this untrammeled occurrence of feelings provokes him to do something that is delightfully essentially to eternalize  the moment; he found the “yellow hair” of Porphyria that he uses to strangle her hoping that he would hold on to the moment forever.

The speaker also assures himself that Porphyria has not felt any pain and as a matter of fact, he is certain of it. Soon after, when he opens her eyes, he feels like as if they are two buds opening to the beginning of the light. (Once he gets her eyes open again, Porphyria’s pretty blue peepers “laugh” again.) It’s strange to imagine how a dead woman and her eyes could “laugh”? The speaker also says that her eyes are now “without a stain” which is clearly a metaphor for “stain” as he refers to Porphyria’s unwillingness to exclusively be with the speaker. The speaker also claims how her face still retains the rosy strain. (The speaker here is clearly delusional and the death of his beloved has already started to take over him). The reversal actions happen towards the end of the poem when the speaker “props” her head towards his shoulder. He uses the word “still” to instill a sense of permanency and eternal tranquility, something which nothing but time can only alter. The summary of Porphyria’sLover by Robert Browning gains it essence only after Porphyria’s death when the speaker refers to himself as “Porphyria’s lover”.  The irony lies in the fact that Porphyria’s wish to be with her lover forever is fulfilled in an alternate reality when she meets death in the hands of the man with whom she had wished eternal bliss.

It’s good to know:

  • Browning was awarded many distinctions. He was made LL.D. of Edinburgh, a life Governor of London University, and had the offer of the Lord Rectorship of Glasgow. But he turned down anything that involved public speaking.
  • The literary assault on Browning’s work was critically dismissed further, by patrician writers such as Charles Kingsley, for the desertion of England for foreign lands.
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