Like ‘My Last Duchess’, this poem is an example of a dramatic monologue – a poem in which the impression the speaker unwittingly gives is rather different from the picture they intend to present. Initially, the poem appears to be built around a contrast between the storm outside and the cosy domestic scene within the cottage that Porphyria and her lover share. But there are unsettling notes from the very start –the storm is strangely personified in terms of sullenness, ‘spite’ and anger, and the speaker is for some reason so moved by it that his heart is ‘fit to break’ (5), while – on the other hand – when Porphyria arrives, he is entirely passive and all but emotionless. A psychological reading of the poem would suggest that the lover is suppressing his own unbearable feelings of violent jealousy here, and unconsciously projecting them instead – in a pathetic fallacy – on to the weather outside. The poem repeatedly focuses on purity of various kinds. First, Porphyria lays aside clothing that is ‘dripping’ (11) or ‘soiled’ (12) and instead reveals a ‘smooth white shoulder’ (17). Second, in the speaker’s eyes she has laid aside for now weakness(22), pride (24) and vanity (24) – all words with a specifically moral dimension – to become instead ‘perfectly pure and good’ (37). It is to preserve this physical and moral purity, as he sees it (and indeed the two dimensions are combined in his reference to her as ‘fair’ (36) – of complexion and of character), that he strangles her. Although the word comes as a surprise, at the very end of a six-line sentence as long and winding as the hair with which he does the deed, there have been hints at something amiss: not only in the speaker’s strange passivity (a striking contrast with the animation with which he describes the night to the reader) but also in his vocabulary, which is the language of Victorian moralising – ‘soiled’, ‘weak’, ‘endeavour’, ‘struggling passion’, ‘set... free from pride’, ‘vainer...
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