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Porphyria's Lover

  • Date Submitted: 05/11/2011 10:05 AM
  • Flesch-Kincaid Score: 48.6 
  • Words: 711
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Porphyria’s Lover, under the name Porphyria, was first published in a magazine named Monthly Repository. It appeared again in Dramatic Lyrics together with Johannes Agricola in Meditation. Significantly both the poems were published under the common title Madhouse Cells. Written in the same format of octo-syllabic lines like the other ‘madhouse’ poem, Porphyria’s Lover deals with the abnormal psychology of a person who justifies his murder. But the poem is much more complex than Johannes Agricola as the final realization of the poem remains equivocal. Where Agricola rejects the authority of the Gospels, Porphyria’s lover breaks one of God’s Ten Commandments that,
“Thou shall not kill.” The Old Testament, ‘Exodus’ 20: 13.
The lover does so by perpetrating a murder. Again, the title of the poem alludes to a physiological condition—‘Porphyria’, strongly reminiscent of the term ‘porphyrin’ in biochemistry, refers to congenital abnormality in pigmentation. In the context of Browning’s poem the term suggests a link between physical and mental abnormality.
The opening lines are evocative of a fierce and malicious natural force, which is illuminated later on in the poem:
“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:”
The ‘elm-tops’, which have been torn down, signals death and anticipates Porphyria’s terrible future. The storm outside has some sort of correspondence with mental agitation within that provokes the lover. Here ‘rain’ and ‘storm’ are subtle personifications of death and destruction. Yet, while depicting this violently animated nature, the lover sounds perfectly sane and his speech proceeds clearly and logically. Browning knew from the contemporary psychological theories that a spurious rationality is a mark of madness. Porphyria’s lover tries to establish a false sense of causality and motivation. Of course, in his abnormal state he could not understand that...

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