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Porphyria's Lover by Robert Browning: Summary, Analysis & Themes

Instructor: Michelle Herrin

Michelle has taught high school and college English and has master's degrees in eduation and liberal studies.

In this lesson, we'll learn about English poet Robert Browning's poem 'Porphyria's Lover.' We will read the poem together and learn about its common interpretations and themes.

About the Author

Robert Browning is a well-known Victorian poet. He was born on May 7, 1812, in London.

Browning married another famous English poet, Elizabeth Barrett, in 1846, and the couple lived in Italy with their son, Robert, until Elizabeth died. Eventually Browning and his son returned to England.

Robert Browning

At the start of his literary career, Browning was not well received; however, he gained notoriety with his long poem, 'The Ring and the Book.' Browning is known for his dramatic monologues, which is a literary technique also known as a persona poem. In a dramatic monologue, the poet writes in a persona or voice. 'Porphyria's Lover,' which we'll discuss below, is a dramatic monologue.

Browning died on December 12, 1889, and was buried in Westminster Abbey.

About the Poem

'Porphyria's Lover' was first published in January 1836. The persona or speaker of the poem is often said to be insane. This poem is only one stanza, so we'll summarize what happens below.

'Porphyria's Lover'

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

She shut the cold out and the storm,

And kneeled and made the cheerless grate

Blaze up, and all the 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,

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 for ever.

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,

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:

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!

First, the speaker sets the scene by describing the night and the room. It's a stormy night--'the rain set early in to-night.' Then, his lover, Porphyria, enters the room, stokes the fire, and sits down next to the speaker. Porphyria lets down 'her yellow hair' and tells the speaker that she loves him.

The speaker is overcome with love. Then says that he 'debated what to do' because she was 'perfectly pure and good.' He says that he takes her hair in 'one long yellow string' and wraps it around her throat three times and strangles her.

He says she felt no pain, but her head 'droops' on his shoulder now. He ends by saying they sat together 'all night long,' but God did not voice any concern over the murder.

What Does It Mean?: Interpretations and Themes

There are several interpretations of this poem. Let's look at three of the most popular interpretations here.

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