Dr. Amy Robinson
Survey of British Literature, 1780-1900
November 7, 2011
Porphyria’s Lover by Robert Browning is surprising. The poem speaks through the mind of a man who kills his lover, Porphyria by strangling her with her own hair. Although my initial reaction to this poem was that the killer was insane and evil, a second reading revealed another meaning. Porphyria’s lover killed her, not out of malice but out of love for her.
Throughout the poem, there are references to Porphyria’s frail and delicate health. The lines, “Too weak, for all her heart’s endeavor, / To set its struggling passion free” (22-23) and “A sudden thought of one so pale” (28) both suggest that Porphyria is ill. The name of the poem also suggests that Porphyria is sick. Porphyria is a rare disorder that is genetic, passed on through generations and of which there is no cure, only treatment. Some symptoms of porphyria are sensitivity to light, muscle weakness and pain. That Porphyria arrives at her lover’s home at night could be explained by her sensitivity to sunlight because of her illness.
Because of her illness, Porphyria’s lover kills her so she will no longer live in pain. He wanted to remember her as she was at that moment, beautiful and happy. “While I debated what to do. / That moment she was mine, mine, fair, / Perfectly pure and good: I found” (35-37). He then decides that that is the moment to end her life, subsequently taking her pain away: “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.” (38-42)
He is convinced that what he did was the right thing to do and takes comfort in this idea. He believes that she wanted him to end her life, to end her suffering evident when he opens her eyes and saw proof of this. “Laughed the blue eyes without a stain” (45) is a reference to her blameless eyes. She...
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