Porphyria's Lover

 

Character of Porphyria

Immediately in the poem, a violent, chaotic and extremely troubled atmosphere is created.  This is a dramatic example of pathetic fallacy which not only positions the reader as with the narrator at the time of the murder (to-night) but also immediately creates a sense of unease.  The scene reflects the narrator’s emotions, which are violent, tense and generally troubled. It’s interesting that such human emotions as ‘spite’ are put into the atmosphere, as though the narrator sees the world itself as ‘spiteful’ towards him, and so he has to take he wants from it.  We might get a sense that the narrator is paranoid and obsessive, reading things into objects or people that aren’t necessarily there.

 

As she enters the cottage,we initially get an image of Porphyria as symbolising warmth (both literal and emotional as ‘she shut the cold out and the storm).  ‘Glided’ suggests an inhuman beauty to her, and ‘Blaze up’ which rises after enjambment gives the idea of great passion. Initially a reader may expect to see a cosy ‘cottage’ scene with the raging storm outside.  Yet there islmost an obsessive watching of Porphyria getting undressed and revealing herself to him (although really she’s just taking off her wet outer clothes). If we look at the description of Porphyria as actually revealing more of the narrator than it does of her, here it shows his obsession with getting close to her, revealing what he perceives as the inner self of Porphyria, which she shows nobody else.  Her uncapturable goodness, beauty and value are seen generally through the repeated description of her hair, which here culiminates in the strip-tease of Porphyria as the part of her with most value.  It is not just that her hair is literally long and spread over everything, instead the connotations of yellow hair (beauty and wealth) symbolize her value to the narrator which is metaphorically spread over everything for him.  The repeated idea of the hair is set up to foreshadow the murder weapon later in the poem. 

 

Euphemism is also heavily employed by the poet who finds ‘a thing to do’ which is extremely ambiguous, as though he is it hiding it from us.  As the lines also mimetically ‘wind’ around each other using enjambment, he eventually reveals bluntly his action ‘And strangled her’, using the very hair which he had admired. Short words in these lines as well as enjambment and the length of the sentence give a sense of a long and repetitive action.  ‘Three times’ emphasizes the precision (pre-meditation) of his action. We might also link to the idea of ‘three’ as a magical number, suggesting the charm he believes he has made later in the poem. ‘Little’ suggests her fragility and weakness and his enjoyment of this perversely.  Caesura after ‘And strangled her’ creates a very blunt drama which is designed to shock the reader.  The narrator after the murder examines his victim and he interprets the signs of murder as signs of his success and her love him.  ‘Laughed without the blue eyes without a stain’ shows the narrator projected his emotions onto her. Very disconcerting contrast between the dead woman and the ‘laughing’ eyes.  ‘Without a stain’ also implies that he not only hasn’t made her imperfect by killing her, but also perhaps that he has cleansed or perfected her by killing her. He has taken the human imperfections which he worried about in her before.  

 

As we had enjambment to signal the winding before, now we have enjambment for the unwinding. And as blood rushes back to her face, he takes on the ‘burning’ fire which she showed earlier, and he revels in the sky, coy blushing which occurs as he kisses her.  This shows his obsession with her innocence and his perverse need to maintain that by killing her.  ‘Propped’ suggests how in control he is of her now, repeating what she did to him but with control.  Also ‘prop’ also suggests a ‘prop’ in a theatre, as though she is a puppet to him now which he can position as he likes.  Perhaps a look at the gender relationships between men and women in Victorian times, where women were fetishized as innocent and reliant upon men.  There was a mass obsession with innocent women who died beautifully in art and literature. ‘Droops upon it still’, ‘still’ might be analysed as still during this moment, and ‘still’ because she is dead and not capable of movement.  He starts layering description upon her, ‘smiling rosy little head’, showing his attempt to perceive his own joy in the now entirely controlled figure of her body. He goes so far as to say that she is glad he has done this, that it is her ‘will’ he has followed.  By committing the crime, he has allowed her to get rid of all her earthly concerns and in losing her life gain him ‘instead’. Pronouns change from ‘her’ to ‘it’ showing that he is turning her into a doll-like creature. Synecdoche is also used to show him taking her apart, both spiritually and bodily, and refining her to the aspects he enjoys particularly.  

Character of the Narrator

 

'I listened with heart fit to break' describes the narrator listening to the storm early in the poem and also suggests his heart being in a state of trauma and madness, showing his obsessive emotions towards Porphyria.  Like the weather it is a very strong description which moves the poem from the atmospheric to the personal.  The narrator then views himself as though he were her puppet originally.  He has no 'voice' to reply to her, as though he has been strangled by emotions, and his limbs are manipulated by her like hers are by him later in this poem.  This suggests that this shows how he feels out of control with her, as though he is only her toy, and he seeks to regain control by reversing their positions through murder.

We might analyse the title of the poem, it puts focus on the narrator (who is the subject of the title) via Porphyria, who is there only to glorify the narrator rather than be the actual subject of the poem.  

 

‘Be sure’ later in the poem instructs the reader to be certain that he what he did is the best thing for both of them, perhaps trying to convince himself as well.  This shows the altruistic decision which he makes to ‘still’ Porphyria in this moment where she worships him, again showing his egotism and arrogance. His heart swells both with love and murderous desire.  Repetition of ‘no pain’ slows down in order to convey his slow contemplation of the decision he made.  Again he is trying to convince us of the goodness of that decision.  We’ at the end of the poem refers to both himself and Porphyria but also could be seen to include the reader, who is also witnessing the scene.  ‘And yet God has not said a word!’ expresses a quiet and almost hopeful joy that they have not been interrupted, and he hasn’t seemed to have been damned or punished for what he has done.  Exclamation at the end of the poem makes it end perversely on his excitement and happiness. This truly disconcerts the reader who ends not on reading of retribution, but of the success of the murder.

Form

 

  • Generally in iambics except for the following quotes:

  • ‘Murmuring how she loved me’

  • ‘Happy and proud;’

  • ‘That moment she was mine, mine, fair,/ Perfectly pure and good:’

  • ‘Laughed the blue eyes without a stain.’

  • Iambics often break when he is describing her, showing that her presence breaks his calmness and his ability to continue the rhythm - his excitement is also shown to break the rhythm in ‘mine, mine, fair’.  However it could also show how he perceives that she almost breaks of his control and his rhythm, which needs to rectify by the end of the poem.

  • Iambics in the poem generally create a sense of driving, constant rhythm, giving a pace which reflects his racing pulse and enjoyment of the act as well perhaps as his anxiety.  Might also analyse that it suggests an inevitability to his actions. The fast pace makes the reader quite tense and nervous as well as it sounds very unnatural.

  • Rhyme scheme is ababb, starting with alternate line rhyme which sounds quite lilting, quite musical and almost relaxed.  Couplet at the end increases the pace suddenly and gives a sense of a disrupted stop before it continues again. Again this shows the heartbeat of the narrator and is extremely disconcerting.  The incredibly formal structure again mirrors his need for control.

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