Perspectives On Women In Browning's Poetry
One of the recurring themes in the poetry of Robert Browning, is that
of woman, and it is this that I have chosen to focus on.
In The first of the poems I have chosen to look at, Porphyria's Lover,
Browning initially portrays the female character as the one with the
power, although this in inevitably removed from her.
In the opening lines of the poem:
'The rain set early in tonight,
The sullen wind was soon awake'
we gain a sense of forboding as the landscape of the poem seems to
reflect the state of mind of the narrator, this is further explored in
the next two lines where the speaker describes the weather as
spiteful. All the narrator can do at this point in the poem is listen
to the weather outside and he is completely helpless.
'I listened with heart fit to break.'
However when Porphyria enters the poem, she alters the circumstances
by replacing cold with warmth and seems completely unaffected by the
weather even though it is she who has been out in it.
'And kneeled and made the cheerless grate
Blaze up and all the cottage warm'
Porphyria's actions at this point in the poem seem effortless in
direct contrast to the impotence of her lover.
Porphyria continues to take charge at this point in the poem by
removing the evidence of the wet, cold weather outside, and even when
her lover is unresponsive she manipulates the situation, moving his
arm around her and placing his head upon her shoulder. We see at this
point that her lover is the weaker of the two, but this is soon
altered as in the lines:
'Too weak for all her heart's endeavour,
To set its struggling passion free
We finally see Porphyria described as weak, but this is not a weakness
of the body or of action, but rather of spirit and we are led to
believe that her lover sees her as too proud to love, and it is in
this belief that he has been suffering and that is what has made him
However, at this point her lover looks into her eyes and sees that she
does love him:
'...at last I knew
Porphyria worshipped me: surprise
Made my heart swell,'
It is in these lines that we see the balance of power alter, secure in
the knowledge that the object of his worship in fact worships him,
Porphyria's lover takes control of the situation and is finally able
to act. In the moment that she is finally truly his ' perfectly pure
and good' he chooses to keep her at that moment forever and:
'....all her hair
In one long yellow string I wound
Three times her little throat around,
And strangled her'
In doing this Porphyria's lover is able to keep his most perfect image
of Porphyria and indeed what a woman should be forever, so that she
would ever remain, silent, adoring and helpless. Having done so, he is
able to manipulate her rather than the other way around, and this is
most apparent in the lines:
'I propped her head up as before,