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Portrait


7 May 1812-12 December 1889

Introduction to Robert Browning
General Biography

Robert Browning was born near Southampton Street in Camberwell, a suburb of London, on May 7, 1812. Because of his father’s extensive literary library Browning had at an early age read all the works of Voltaire, and was greatly influenced by Byron.From his early influences, Browning developed a great appreciation of literature. He declined an offer for clerkship in the Bank of England, and expressed to his family his desire to purse a career in poetry. His father fully accepted his son’s decision, and Browning and his parents lived peacefully together until he was married. Browning frequently participated in literary and artistic circles, and was highly fond of the theater. In 1833, Browning anonymously published his first poem entitled "Pauline." Although Browning found this first work crude (he would attempt to destroy all the copies of it he could), the Monthly Repository hailed the poem as marking the advent of a true poet. During 1834, he traveled in Russia, and in 1835, he published "Paracelsus," a dramatic poem in blank verse. The success of this poem led to several important friendships, notably with the critic John Forster and the actor William Charles Macready. In 1837, Browning’s play "Strafford" was produced at Covent Garden, with Macready playing the lead part. In 1838, Browning made his first trip to Italy. His impressions there inspired his narrative poem "Sordello" (1840). The critical reception of this poem was extremely hostile and marked the beginning of a decline in his reputation, from which he did not recover for many years. Between 1841 and 1846, Browning published, under the title Bells and Pomegranates, a series of plays and verse collections.
In September 1846, Browning married Elizabeth Barrett. In November 1846, the Brownings moved to Italy, where they remained until Elizabeth’s death in 1861. They had one child together, Robert Wiedemann Barrett Browning. In 1850, Browning published his poem "Christmas Eve" and "Easter Day," followed in 1855 by "Men and Women." After returning to England in 1861, he published Dramatis Personae (1864), a verse collection, and "The Ring and the Book" (1869), a long poem that brought about the restoration of his reputation. During the remaining twenty years of his life, which he spent partly in London and partly in the countryside or abroad, Browning published numerous poems and verse collections. Browning’s last volume of poems, Asolando, was published on December 12, 1889, the day of his death.


(1) Soylent Communications
(2) Bloom, Harold, and Paul Fox

Form is Content in "My Last Duchess"
Capturing the Objectified Woman 


The narrator of “My Last Duchess” has a clear desire to own every aspect of his most recent wife’s life.  He becomes furious when she finds happiness outside their relationship. He complains

A heart-how shall I say?-too soon made glad,
Too easily impressed; she liked whate’er
She looked on, and her looks went everywhere (22-24)

Here we see the narrator frustrated by his wife’s ability to find happiness in all facets of life.  This frustration is explained when the narrator reminds the reader that

‘t was not
her husband’s presence only, called that spot
of Joy into the Duchess’ cheek (13-15)

His inability to be her sole reason for finding happiness on earth is a huge burden on the narrator.  In this respect one can see his desire to possess the Duchess, not only her person (which he arguably has through marriage) but of her feelings and emotions.  He wants control of these intangibles, often the only things we have to keep our individuality in a relationship, because he wants her as an object rather than a wife. The narrator eventually becomes completely infuriated by his wife seemingly ranking “my gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name/with anybody’s gift” (33-34). Here we see the narrator’s clearly enormous ego (along with the importance of reputation among Victorian’s). It is this ego that allows the narrator to feel like he is in a position to own the Duchess; however, the narrator fails to obtain and control her emotions.  While she smiles at him, she still gives all who pass “much the same smile” (45). Here the narrator draws the line and decides that decisive action is necessary. He debates talking to her about how he feels, but sees this as a sign of weakness which would wound his enormous ego.  He rationalizes that even if

she let
Herself be lessoned so…
e’ven then would be some stooping; and I choose
never to stoop (39-40, 42-43)

His ego and sole desire to possess his wife leads him to have his wife forever preserved as an object by means of having her portrait accurately painted. The painting itself is an excellent way to see the objectification and desire to possess the Duchess because now

The depth and passion of its earnest glance,
But to myself they turned...
Though his fair daughter's self, as I avowed
at starting, is my object (8-9, 52-53)

Thus, he becomes the sole possessor of the smile when he

Gave the commands;
Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands
As if alive (45-46)

Killing her living body gives him sole possession of her, and he sees no difference between his living wife and the painting. The narrator feels confident that he has captured full possession of the late Duchess.  He has, in truth, effectively objectified her to the point of her life being indistinguishable from a painting and grown so jealous over her natural happiness that he had her executed. We see all of these traits, his enormous ego, his want to capture, and his objectification of women in the last three lines of the poem.

Notice Neptune, though,
Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity,
Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me (54-56)

Here we see the narrator effectively compare himself to the Roman god Neptune.  One can see the taming of a sea-horse as a metaphor for the narrator’s approach to ‘taming’ his wife’s feelings, thus breaking her like a horse and only allowing her to be happy as he saw fit (and equating all women with horses, thus requiring 'breaking' and taming).  Lastly, we see the narrator’s want to capture his wife through this scene being forever set in bronze, where it is immovable and unchangeable.


Discussion Questions:
-Where do you see the objectification of the Duchess (or women in general) in the poem?
-Is the narrator suppose to represent the 'norm' at the time, or is he to be considered an eccentric?
-Can his obsession be considered a conceding that the world is actually a 'woman's world,' despite what it looks like on the surface?


Structure of "My Last Duchess"

"My Last Duchess" is written in Iambic Pentameter with an AA BB rhyme scheme. Iambic Pentameter is defined as a structure containing a line of five feet and ten syllables. The syllables are a combination of alternating unstressed and stressed parts (known as the iamb), creating a ti-TUM or da DUM sound. Iambic Pentameter is the commonly used structure for traditional verse and verse dramas.
Example:
A) That’s MY | last DUCH | ess PAINT | ed ON | the WALL
A) Look ING | as IF | she WERE | a- LIVE |I CALL
B) That PIECE | a WON | der NOW | Fra PAN | dolf’s HANDS
B) Worked BUS- | i LY | a DAY | and THERE | she STANDS


(7) James Fenton


Interpretation of Form: Line Breaks


Although the line breaks in My Last Duchess are necessary in order to keep the iambic pentameter structure of the poem, Browning’s choice of where a line is broken off highlights the very character of the Duke. The line breaks serve as a point of emphasis for the reader. For example,

Looking as if she were alive. I call
That piece a wonder, now: Frà Pandolf’s hands
Worked busily a day, and there she stands.
Will’t please you sit and look at her? I said (2-4)

In the early lines of the poem the Duke establishes his authority. The break I call and I said gives the Duke a commanding presence. At the same time, by putting a break after hands, the Duke reaffirms the idea that the value of Frà Pandolf lies only in his hands. It is almost as if the Duke is trying to emphasis that it was not Frà Pandolf who created the portrait, but the objects which are his hands. This also reiterates the idea that the Duke values objects over that which living. This exact same concept is again highlighted towards the end of the poem in the lines,

E’en then would be some stooping; and I choose
Never to stoop. Oh sir, she smiled, no doubt,
Whene’er I passed her, but who passed without
Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands;
Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands (42-46)

While the Duke believes he is above everyone else (he chooses never to stoop), he, in actuality, shows his ignorance. In the line I gave commands; then all smiles stopped together the reader understands that the Duke is responsible for the Duchess’ untimely death. However, because of the Duke’s prideful nature (highlighted by the stock he holds in his gift of a nine-hundred-years-old (33)), he does not realize that his words speak beyond what he wishes them to mean. Much as the Duke puts on display the portrait of the Duchess, he at the same time is revealing his guilty conscience.

Form as Content in "Porphyria's Lover"
Porphyria's Lover


Summary: “Porphyria’s Lover” was written by Robert Browning in 1836, and was one of his first dramatic monologes. It is also known to be his most shocking. Not only does the wordplay and tone create ambiguity throughout the poem, but the poem cannot be fully understood unless the words are examined closely and taken into consideration. Although the reading of the poem seems very conventional and simple, the connotations behind the words are a lot more meaningful than one would expect at first glance. The speaker in the poem does not have a name, and he is the narrator throughout. The other main character, Porphyria, gets no direct monologue, although you can decipher many things about her through her body language. The themes, form, and symbolism are extremely important in this poem due to the fact that we only get the speaker's written point of view. The speaker lives in a cottage in the countryside and the tone is set immediately by not only the isolated location but the rain storm and the night-time aspect. His lover, a very pure and nice girl, Porphyria, comes in out of a storm and makes a fire for her lover. She seems to bring lots of happiness and cheer as she enters, which makes the outcome of the poem even more creepy. When she enters, she goes to the speaker and embraces him. This instance, and many more, show us the true love that Porphyria has for the speaker. We are made aware that she has overcome many social class barriers to be with him, which has a lot to do with the power struggle between the two, which ultimately sets up the killing. Porphyria offers the speaker her bare shoulder, suggesting that the usual Victorian "purity" has been overlooked here, and that may also be a reasoning behind why the speaker has "lost respect" for her. We are meant to believe that the speaker wanted to "capture the moment", so he decides to kill his lover by wrapping her hair around her neck three times. This symbolism and the many metaphors here are important, and are explained later in the Wiki. He messes around with her corpse once she is dead, and it is obvious that the speaker has many psychological problems. Does she literally love her to death? He opens her eyes and props her up, as if the two are still sharing in this moment together. The poem ends by the speaker telling us that "God has not said a word," leaving us with an ambiguous feeling of what Browning wanted us to feel.

Form: The dramatic monologue has a very natural language, lacking many dialectial markers, which you see in some of Browning's later work. The poem captures a main event right after it has happened. Porphyria is already dead when the speaker beings. Just as the speaker intends to stop time by killing the girl, so too does the poem seek to pause the consciousness of an instant. The poem has a highly patterned verse, rhyming ABABB. The metre is iambic tetrametre – a form that is conversational. The stress falls on each second beat. This conversational style suits the dramatic monologue, emphasising the idea that her lover is talking directly to us. The intense scenes and asymmetrical patterns of the words that Browning uses suggest maddness which is trying to be masked. The narrator feels as though he is sane, and tries to give a calm vibe, which goes against the words that are displayed.

THEMES

Madness: The narrator in "Porphyria's Lover" seems to overload the poem with insanity. When he sits alone during a storm he "listen|s| with a heart fit to break" (5) letting the reader know early on that something is wrong, at least emotionally, with the narrator. As the poem progresses and the narrator begins to believe that Porphyria adores him, the narrator's thoughts begin to take a turn for the worse. When he decides to strangle her with her own hair, the narrators mental state is no longer in question, he is mad. By the end of the poem the narrator states, "And all night long we have not stirred/ And yet God has not said a word!" (59-60). This statement makes it clear that he has spent the evening with the dead Porphyria, and that he believes there will be no consequences for his actions; maybe even going so far to say he believes he was right in killing her. It is not healthy or reasonable to believe that it is tolerable to kill a woman, simply because they are in love with you.

Sex: Throughout "Porphyria's Lover" there is a strong sense of sexuality found in the poem. It discusses the love and 'passion' that Porphyria and the narrator share together. At one point the narrator says about Porphyria, "To weak for all her hearts endeavor,/ To set its struggling passion free/ From pride, and vainer ties dissever,/ And gave herself to me for ever" (22-25). The words chosen in this scene are very sexual. When reading these four lines one can conclude that Porphyria is tempted to have sexual intercourse with the narrator, however she is unable to according to the narrator because of her "pride" and other "vain" beliefs that she has. Even in Porphyria's death the narrator is able to romanticize the moment. Generally love is gained from a woman before or when they agree to have sexual relations. According to the narrator however, love is found in death.

Violence: Violence also plays a large role in the poem. An example of this is in the poem is found in the weather. The storm that Porphyria leaves when she enters the house is violent, as it, "tore the elm-tops down for spite" (3). Then Porphyria enters the poem and she is depicted as warm, loving, and adoring towards the narrator. The narrator responds to this behavior by choosing to kill her. The narrator explains, "That moment she was mine, mine, fair,/ Perfectly pure and good: I found/ A thing to do, and all her hair/ In one long string I wound/ three times her little throat around,/ And strangled her. No pain felt she;"(36-41) The violence in the weather foreshadows the violence that is found in the house.

Passion: Throughout the poem passion seems to be a motivating force for the narrator, whether it be in the form of worship or love. The narrator justifies killing Porphyria because she worships him. Porphyria is said to love the narrator, even though we never hear her voice in the poem. It is said that her heart is too weak for all the passion she has for the narrator, indicating that passion is seen as a weakness in the eyes of the narrator. It is only when he feels that he has complete hold over her that he allows himself to kill her, in an attempt to prolong their moment of passion.


Discussion Questions:
-Why does the poem end with the speaker thinking that he will not have consequences for his actions?
-At what point in the poem did you begin to distrust the speaker?
-Can you tell the story from Porphyria's perspective?

Tying it all Together
The Unspoken Power of Women in "Porphyria's Lover" and "My Last Duchess"

While many perceive these two poems as misogynistic fantasy, one could easily read into the power of women and the weight they hold with the men they're with. The motives behind Browning’s “Porphyria’s Lover” and “My Last Duchess” have been thoroughly discussed by U.C. Knoepflmacher in his article “Projection and the Female Other: Romanticism, Browning, and the Victorian Dramatic Monologue.” In this article Knoepflmacher discusses “Browning’s lifelong urge to represent the imaginative possession of a female” that, according to him, all men indulge in (Knoepflmacher 142). Here we see Knoepflmacher arguing that while The Narrator and the Duke may attempt to posses their respective females through killing them, this possession is only imaginary.
“Porphyria’s Lover” offers a shockingly powerful woman as its subject. Unfortunately, this fact is lost upon many solely because readers are so shocked by the Narrator’s abrupt actions. Porphyria shows her strength over the Narrator throughout the first few stanzas of the poem. She “made the cheerless grate/blaze up, and all the cottage warm” (PL 8-9). Porphyria is able to change the cold demeanor of the Narrator, and his cabin, in a matter of minutes. While the Narrator had his own fire going, because Porphyria doesn’t actually start a fire (she just causes his to “blaze up”), it is Porphyria’s fire that brings warmth to the cabin. It becomes evident that it is not solely the physical fire warming the Narrator’s hut, but it is Porphyria who possesses this good-natured warmth that radiates through the Narrator’s small dwelling. The Narrator is so enamored by Porphyria that he becomes upset by Porphyria’s inability to “give herself to me for ever” (PL 25). It is clear that the Narrator is so obsessed with Porphyria that his “love” for her demands some sort of ultimatum. Or, as Igersoll puts it, the Narrator, “unable to live without the object of his love…turns the loved one into an object which represents the deadliness of such ‘love’” (Igersoll 154). Again, the poem illustrates Porphyria as the stronger and more sensible character. The Narrator is so unconfident in his ability to keep the object of his desire, so worried about being abandoned by the stronger female, that he decides his only chance at keeping Porphyria forever is by killing her. We see that Porphyria may die, but she dies because the Narrator cannot handle her dominance over him. The Duchess is in a similar situation with the Duke.
The reason the Duke gives for stopping “all smiles,” a poetic way of saying killing the Duchess, is because of his jealousy and enormous ego (MLD 46). He becomes frustrated by the Duchess’ “heart…too soon made glad/too easily impressed; she liked whate’er/she looked on, and her looks went everywhere” (MLD 22-24). The Duke, like Ingersoll, reads this trait as promiscuity; however, it can easily be argued that the Duchess just possesses a happy disposition towards life. She enjoys the world and wishes to bring as much joy to strangers as they bring her. Unfortunately, like the paranoid Duke, Ingersoll reads these lines as the Duchess’ “desire to give herself indiscriminately to all her world’s pleasures” and thus misreads this innocent passage as sexual promiscuity (Igersoll 156). Instead, it would seem as if the Duke is simply afraid of losing something as jubilant and happy as the Duchess. In fact, the Duke seems to only fear one thing, and that is his “favour at her breast” being overshadowed by “the bough of cherries” another man had given her or even her love for “the white mule” she rides (MLD 25, 27-8). Here it is clear that it is not solely a jealousy of losing the Duchess to another man, for the Duke is even envious of the Duchess’ mule. Not only that, but these allusions to a white mule and a bough of cherries are, according to Knoepflmacher, “iconographic details traditionally associated with the Virgin Mary,” someone who could not be further disassociated with sexual promiscuity (Knoepflmacher 155). It becomes clear that the Duke isn’t afraid of losing the sexual interest of his Duchess, but he is afraid of losing such a powerful person to any other dedication.
In both cases it becomes clear that while the poem narrates from the insane male point of view, Browning is clearly writing about the power women have over men. It is a power that was wholly denied in the Victorian era and is feebly denied in his poetry; however, his intentions seem clear. If the women weren't so dominate, special, and persuasive to their male counterparts then there would be no reason to kill them. Instead, it is the males' inability to accept a woman as the dominate half of a relationship that leads the women to their respective deaths.


(3) “Lacan, Browning, and the Murderous Voyeur: ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ and ‘My Last Duchess.’”

(4) “Projection and the Female Other: Romanticism, Browning, and The Victorian Dramatic Monologue.”


Similarities & Differences Between "Porphyria's Lover and My Last Duchess"

Comparing two different pieces of literature may be a difficult task, especially when themes and metaphores are brought into the picture. Although, it seems as though Robert Browning had many of the same ideas when creating these different dramatic monologues.
Similarities: Both poems bring up the significance of men. They both describe ways that men deal with love and relationships with women. Unfortunately, the way that the men in both poems treat women is not very positive. In each poem, the men are portrayed to be extremely jealous and overbearing. This, in turn, makes the women seem as though they are the victim. This may be due to the fact that the men are narrating both poems. Both poems have a plot which revolves around the idea of a man killing a woman. In both poems, the male seems unsure about his feelings and acts on his emotions. Although the plots are completely different, the idea behind them is one in the same. This is also true about the themes. They overlap in the idea of a man's desire for possession over a woman, although it is a lot more subtle in My Last Duchess. In both poems, the jealousy and hatred is a figment of imagination for the narrator. There is no obvious sign that the women deserve what is being done to them. Both poems end with the man getting a "rememberance" of their women. Although one is a painting, and one is the actual human embodiment.
Browning's language use is similar for both poems. He remains true to his use of plain language, and use of metaphorical ideas which make these simple words extremely complicated. He sets a calm tone for both, even though the words contradict that. Although the meter is different in the two, one thing remains the same. Browning does not vary his use of rhyme scheme. Both poems remain true to their form, which is due to the fact that they are coming from the same author.
Differences: The obvious difference between the two poems is the form. Both have positive rhyme schemes, although completely different in meter. My Last Duchess has an AA BB CC rhyme scheme, where Porphyria's Lover ABABB CDCDD rhyme scheme. As far as plot, the ideas are the same, although the reason for the killing is not. In Porphyria's Lover, the narrator wants to capture the woman as she is, and make the idea of her last forever. In My Last Duchess the narrator is more angry and annoyed by the woman. In My Last Duchess, the narrator does not feel as though he is "lesser" socially and in value than his lady, which is what is happening in Porphyria's Lover. Instead, the main idea behind his killing is jealousy of other men, not of social standing. Although both capture the beauty of their women in the end, My Last Duchess portrays a painting rather than an actual human embodiment.

Pieces of the Puzzle
The Importance of the Dramatic Monologue

A dramatic monologue is a piece of performed writing that helps the reader to understand how the speaker is feeling. Dramatic monologues are sometimes confused with a soliloquy, so beware of the difference. In a soliloquy the character is speaking to themselves, not to the audience.
Poets chose to write dramatic monologues to express a point of view through the words of a character. What makes them so different is that the actual opinions that the character in the poem has are not the same as the beliefs the author has. Usually, the speaker is trying to be deceiving, and sometimes is even flat out lying. For instance, Browning's "The Last Duchess" and "Porphyria's Lover". Browning is considered to me the master of the dramatic monologue. Sometimes what the speaker doesn't say is just as revealing and interesting as what he or she does say in the poem.

Questions to ask yourself when trying to understand a dramatic monologue:
 Who is the speaker talking to and why?
What tactics is the speaker using to make his case?
Does the speaker seem to change his mind during the poem?

Historical References in "My Last Duchess"

The Duke in My Last Duchess alludes to the real life duke Alfonso II, Duke of Ferrara as can be surmised by the poem beginning with the word FERRARA (a direct reference to Alfonso II). The Duchess in this case would refer to Lucrezia de Medici, whom the Duke married when she was 14. Two years after they were married, Lucrezia died through what was suspected at the time of being poisoned. Much like the Duke in Browning’s poem, Alfonso II was known as a great appreciator of art. It can be interpreted that Browning uses his fictional Duke to personify Alfonso II as cruel, and someone who objectifies everything around him (Lucrezia de Medici, for example) as objects akin to art (in this case, the portrait of the Duchess). This concept is further stressed by the fact that the reader does not know if the Duke in the poem is describing his actual deceased wife, or the portrait he puts on display. For example, in the line,

That piece a wonder, now Frà Pandolf’s hands
worked busily a day, and there she stands. (3-4)

Here the Duke refers to the portrait as “she,” as if it were a living embodiment of what it is meant to represent. Throughout the rest of the poem the Duke’s discerning between the portrait of the Duchess and the actual Duchess becomes more ambiguous. In the line, how such a glance came there… are you to turn and ask… Sir, ‘t was not her husband’s presence only, called that spot of joy into the Duchess’ cheek (12-15), it is not clearly expressed if the Duke is explaining the glace in the Duchess that Frà Pendolf creates, or the glance created by the Duke in his wife. Even in the very last line of the poem the Duke reaffirms the notion that he holds objects above those living when he explains, Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity, which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me! (55-56). Because of his perceived power, the Duke believes he can do the seemingly impossible- tame a sea horse. Furthermore, this event he preserves in the artificial medium of bronze, strengthen his belief that he has power over all things.


(8) Francis O'Gorman
(9) Jennifer Speake and Thomas Goddard


Symbolism and References in "Porphyria's Lover"

Hair: Porphyria's hair is the main image in the poem. It is the main element in how the story unfolds. One would think that the speaker has a hair fetish, but during the Victorian era, it was common to have an "obsession" with hair. Some believe that this comes from the fact that during the Victorian era, women started wearing their hair down and keeping it long, and in the past they always had to keep it short and usually wear a wig. Browning definitely takes this hair thing to the next level in Porphyria's Lover. One might wonder why he used her hair to kill her rather than any other technique. There is no explanation for why he has chosen to do this, although one can concentrate on various passages from the poem and create assumptions. Not only does he use the hair as his way of killing her, but he also uses the hair to create metaphors for other ideas. 

For example: In Line 13 Browning writes "After entering soundlessly from the storm, Porphyria takes off her wet coat and hat, and lets her damp hair fall."

It is obvious that Browning meant more here than the text says. His use of the word "fall" makes us believe that he already had been thinking about killing her as soon as she came that night. In the Victorian era, the idea of "falling" for women usually relates to the idea of converting to modernity by "falling away from purity". Now, the reader is forced to question why the speaker is looking at his lover as an impure woman. Did the speaker lose respect for his lover because she gave her body to him? We are forced to wonder what the significance of combining the hair obsession with the fallen idea in this passage. This same idea of purity is obvious due to the fact that the speaker continues to point out that Porphyria's hair is "yellow". Once again, the soft and light colors symbolize purity. In Line 20, Porphyria is spreading her hair over the speaker. This symbolizes her purity taking over him. Is he intimidated by her purity? The fact that the poem ends by the speaker killing Porphyria by her hair forces us to question if Browning meant for us to believe that Porphyria inevitably killed herself due to her fall from purity.

The Elements: The weather and the use of nature is something that is extremely important throughout the poem. In the very first line, the weather sets the mood for the entire poem. The poem beings, "The rain set early in tonight". After we finish the poem, it is obvious why Browning set the scene up this way. The weather is an echo of the "storm" that is going on inside the speaker's house that night. It is common during the Victorian era to have the outside world reflect the inner mood of characters in a story or poem. Here, this remains extremely true. The mood would not be the same if this were to take place during the day in a bright and sunny room. Also, the weather becomes personified throughout the first few lines, which makes us really feel the emotion and effect of the weather and it's significance. For example: In Line 2 Browning says, "The sullen wind was soon awake". This personification not only captures up, but ends up tying together many of the other metaphors once we see the end result and anger in the tone. It is funny because the rhyme scheme of the poem is so happy, although we can still feel the pain and anger that is present through this personification of the elements. Line 3 is extremely important for the same reasons. "It tore the elm-tops down for spite"... the elm-tops here are a metaphor for Porphyria. The speaker does, in fact, tear her down.. just for spite. For all we know, the girl didn't do anything to him and this is more of a psychological thing. It seems as though the speaker is spiteful for Porphyria, and this line not only captures us into the weather idea, but sets us up for the literal spite that is soon to come. By Line 7, the personification of the elements make us understand what is going on, and once again, sets us up for what to expect. "She shut the cold out and the storm".. this forces us to believe that Porphyria has been shutting the speaker out of her life, and he is resentful towards her. All of these metaphors are extremely important in uncovering what Browning wanted to do with this amazing piece of poetry.

Body Language: One thing that is important about the poem is that we don't get to see or feel any of Porphyria's emotions since she doesn't get to speak. This is written completely from the speaker's point of view. Because of this, it is important to notice any and all signs of body language which Porphyria gives so we can get some sense of what she is going through, and may be able to emphathyze with her since she doesn't get any direct dialogue.

In Line 6 Porphyria "glided in", so right away we are to feel as though she is this angelic, perfect woman who is just coming in gracefully and has not done anything wrong. Once again, we are reminded of the impact of her purity here. She proceeds to light the fire and we still feel as though she has done nothing wrong. One of the most important aspects of Porphyria's way of expressing herself are her eyes. When we get to Line 31 the speaker "looked up at her eyes happy and proud"... he is noting how much love that she has for him in her eyes. They always say that the eyes are the window to the soul, so at this moment, the reader is drawn into her emotion and it is obvious that Porphyria was expecting the night to unfold differently. Poor girl. He continues to say "she worshipped me", which introduces us to the obvious power struggle, but that will be spoken of at a different time. Whether or not she knew that she was going to be killed, she still showed her admiration through him through her eyes. She really, really loves him. 
Her eyes are brought up again when we get to Line 43. The speaker comapres her eyes to a closed flower bud with a bee inside. This makes us wonder exactly what Browning wanted us to feel when we got to this line. This is right after he had strangled her. Is he suggesting that her eyes were bulging out because of what he had just done? Or is he suggesting that if she had opened her eyes again that he would be "stung" by the love that she displays when she looks at him. The alliteration with the "b's" here make us feel as though this description of her tells a lot about her, although it is ambiguous what exactly Browning wants us to feel. Either way, she is dying at this point, and all the speaker can remark on is his lover's eyes. Line 45 is extremely ambiguous, also. "Laighed the blue eyes without a stain". We are forced to wonder what the speaker's fascination with Porphyria's eyes are. This is definitely a reoccuring symbol of their love. Just like the hair, the color of the eyes is important. In the Victorian era, blue symbolized heaven. Porphyria is continued to be portrayed as this angelic woman. Her eyes are laughing.. does that mean that she is happy that he has killed her? Is she at peace? Either way, this enhances the "Craziness" and obsession of the speaker. Since the eyes are not stained, we assume that the killing was a very easy, smooth process. Once again, signifying purity. 

Burning: The image of fire, or something burning is used at both the beginning and the end of the poem. In the beginning it is used to describe how Porphyria is able to warm the 'cheerless' cottage by making a fire. Towards the end of the poem it is used to describe the narrators kiss on Porphyria's cheek, even though she is no longer alive, her cheek is able to blush. In both scenes this burning image portrays Porphyria as a warm and loving character, but it does the opposite for the narrator. He is the person who lives in the cold and 'cheerless' cottage and the person who places the burning kiss on a woman he killed.


Shmoop University Inc (5)

Modern Day Adaptions
The Dark Tower Series

by Stephen King

"The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed."

So begins Stephen King's seven book series, based on Browning's epic poem "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came." The Dark Tower Series is one of the most enthralling and underrated tales of the 20th century. Described by the author as his magnus opus, the story features settings and characters from King's large library of other works (including The Stand, Insomnia, Salems' Lot and Hearts in Atlantis). The work details Roland's long road to "the dark tower," the metaphorical and physical center of the universe. Multiple allusions are made to Browning's poem, as it becomes intregal to the plot (and is even given to the main character near the end of book seven). A main protagonist throughout the novels, Walter, is often thought to be the liar in the opening lines of Browning's poem. Further references to the poem include multiple settings and the ending. King's work seamlessly blends an odd multitude of genres including romance, western, sci-fi, and horror. The last few books focus on the power of literature and writing, as well as balancing one's life-goals with the friendships one makes along the way.


Sci-Fi/Fantasy painter Michael Whelan is well known for his Dark Tower paintings and illustrations. You can see them here.


"My friend, my friend, he's got a knife; A statement from his former life
When he was easy but alone; Beside him was an empty throne"

Additional Biographical Information


Early Life: Robert Browning was born near Southampton Street in Camberwell, a suburb of London, on May 7, 1812. Robert Browning’s mother, Sarah Wiedemann Browning, was of Scottish descent and described as “the true type of a Scottish gentlewoman”. His father, Robert Browning, was a clerk at the Bank of England where he worked for fifty years. The elder Robert Browning was described as “a highly cultivated man” and was acquainted with English literature, as well as foreign and classical literature. Like his son, Robert Browning Sr. was also a poet, as well as an ardent book collector. Because of this, Robert Browning Sr. played a large part in educating young Robert Browning. Because of his skill at versifying, Robert Browning Sr. would often take his son’s Latin grammar lessons and turn them into rhymes.

Education: Robert Browning expressed great poetic talent from a young age. He had already composed verses before developing an ability to write, and, by the age of twelve, Browning completed a volume of poems entitled Incondita. Although Browning attended a neighborhood school he dropped out at fourteen, and was primarily educated at home. For the next two years he had a French tutor. At age eighteen Browning attended a handful of lectures on Greek at London University, but never received any notable praise while there. He was noted at this time as being more in love with “birds and beasts” rather than having interest in his lessons. Because of his father’s extensive literary library Browning had at an early age read all the works of Voltaire, and was greatly influenced by Byron.

Later Years and Death: Browning’s literary involvement continued until the very end of his life. Though he composed works slower during his later years, Browning wrote continuously, considering twenty-five or thirty lines to be a good day’s work. His writing’s complexity did not diminish during this time, and Browning wrote poignantly on a wide variety of subjects. After a decline in health, brought on by the combination of a cold and weakness of the heart, Robert Browning died in Venice on December 12, 1889. He is buried in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey.


(1) Soylent Communications
(6) John William Cunliffe

Image Gallery
Works Cited


(1) "Robert Browning." NNDB: Tracking the Entire World. Soylent Communications. Web. Apr. 2011. <http://www.nndb.com/people/035/000031939/>.

(2) Bloom, Harold, and Paul Fox. Robert Browning. New York: Bloom's Literary Criticism, 2009. Print.

(3) Igersoll, Earl. “Lacan, Browning, and the Murderous Voyeur: ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ and ‘My Last Duchess.’” Victorian Poetry 28.2 (Summer 1990):151-157.

(4) Knoepflmacher, U.C. “Projection and the Female Other: Romanticism, Browning, and The Victorian Dramatic Monologue.” Victorian Poetry 22.2 (Summer 1984):139-159.

(5) Shmoop University Inc. "Porphyria's Lover Symbolism, Imagery & Wordplay."

(6) Browning, Robert, and John William Cunliffe. Robert Browning; Shorter Poems; Selected and Ed. with Introduction and Notes. New York: C. Scribner's Sons, 1909. Print.

(7) Fenton, James. An Introduction to English Poetry. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 2002. Print.

(8) O'Gorman, Francis. Victorian Poetry: an Annotated Anthology. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub., 2004. Print.

(9) Speake, Jennifer, and Thomas Goddard Bergin. Encyclopedia of the Renaissance and the Reformation. New York: Facts on File, 2004. Print

All work not cited is courtesy of the hard work and research of David Kim, Jennifer Royer, Lindsay Thul and Rush Weigelt