Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Theory Questions: "Porphyria's Lover" by Robert Browning

Deconstruction might be an interesting approach to "Porphyria's Lover" by Robert Browning. The poem's speaker is a murderer, and, as it appears to the reader, kind of insane. Since we hear the story through him, everything's a little twisted and traditional ideas of life/death and good/evil are inverted. Yet, the poem itself doesn't seem to offer any commentary on this. If we think that what the speaker did in murdering Porphyria was "bad," then we're applying our own mindsets to the situation described, because to the last, the speaker doesn't seem to have any sense of loss or the badness of what he's done, only a sort of daring, ambiguous hush as the speaker observes "And yet God has not said a word!"

1) Examine the binaries of life/death, purity/passion, good/evil and any others that occur to you as they appear in the relationship between the speaker and Porphyria. How do they seem to invert the regular values placed on these ideas?

2) At the moment preceding Porphyria's death, the speaker says "That moment she was mine, mine, fair, / Perfectly pure and good: I found / a thing to do" and that thing was to murder her. What does it mean that he goes from seeing her as "pure and good" to strangling her with her own hair? What values is he creating for himself?

3) The poem ends "And yet God has not said a word!" We don't know why God "hasn't said a word" any more than the speaker does--it's left ambiguous whether this means consequences are still impending for the speaker or if he's operating in a sort of figurative inverted universe all his own where his actions are effectively justified. What might Browning be hoping to convey with this? Why not end with the speaker being hauled off by the police, for example?

Browning, Robert. "Porphyria's Lover." The Norton Introduction to Poetry. J. Paul Hunter, Alison Booth, and Kelly J. Mays. 9th edition. New York: Norton, 2007. 529-31.


Mrs. Bedwin said...

I find this poem very interesting. It's one that i want to read and re-read to make sure that I am getting everything from it that I suppose to. I think there can be a lot to focus in on in the poem; for instance, the power struggle between the lover and Porphyria, the imagery, and the rhyming scheme ( and even how that works with the thematic elements of the poem). However, what most interested me was the last line of the poem, " And yet God has not said a word" (Line 60). This is a great line to deconstruct. In the binary of life/death, life is the superior,and,thus, taking a life would be looked down upon, especially by God ( In the God/man binary, God is superior, and perhaps this line also plays with this binary as it shows man with more power and control over God- the power to leave God speechless) but, Browning plays with this binary as he makes death seem more peaceful, and the act of putting someone in that state acceptable by God. It's as if the speaker knows that he did something socially and religiously unacceptable ( which is why he is surprised that God hasn't said a word), but is still proud of what he did, because he feels that he did himself and Porphyria a favor.

In reference to the second critical question, I don’t know as the lover goes from seeing her as pure and good and then, suddenly and surprisingly, strangling her with her own hair; I think the author sees her as pure and good, and, because of that, strangles her with her own hair. The speaker strangled her with her own hair to keep her in a state of purity- he was trying to preserve the moment and her purity in that moment. Perhaps he saw death as the best and only way way ( and this comes back to the death/life binary, and the deconstructionist reading that perhaps death can be good) to keep her in a pure and wondrous state.

AmyD. said...

What do you think about viewing the poem through the eyes of a feminist? Take the stance from Prophyria's view. All she did was show up and love the man and he was impatient and allowed his frustrations get the best of him. What kind of thing did this woman do to deserve death? In a tragedy, the death that happens is usually for some greater purpose. (i.e in King Lear, Cordellia had to die because Lear's fall was even greater because of it. While the daughter did nothing wrong, her death was needed for the story). I feel that it is all to often that this poem is looked at from the standpoint of the lover rather than Porphyria.