Robert Browning lived during the Victorian era and wrote poems on a wide variety of subjects. Browning was intrigued by abnormal states of mind and two poems based upon this were ‘Porphyria’s Lover’, written in 1836, and ‘The Laboratory’, written in 1844.Porphyria’s Lover’ is an account of a young woman’s last moments alive written by her lover and murderer.
The poem opens on a wild, stormy night with the gentleman sitting alone and depressed. The gentleman’s lover, Porphyria, entered the cottage and lit a fire in the grate. Once the woman had removed her hat, coat and shawl she called the gentleman to her, he didn’t reply so she approached him and put her arms around his waist. The woman then proceeded to lean her lovers head against her bare shoulder and whispered that she loved him.The lines; Too weak for all her hearts endeavour,To set its struggling passion free.
From pride and vainer ties dissever,And give her self to me for ever.Suggest that Porphyria was possibly of a higher social class than her lover and could not commit herself to him as it would be frowned upon.After a moment’s thought, the gentleman realises this woman must love him as she was at a ‘gay feast’, but her love and passion for him willed her to leave the feast and travel through the storm to be with him.It was in that moment he realised she worshipped him; he wanted to savour the moment. He wanted to savour the moment.
The lines ‘I foundA thing to do...
and all her hairIn one long yellow string I woundThree times her little throat around,And strangled her.’Describe how naturally it came to this man to kill a woman he loved by strangling her with her own blonde hair. The calmness and natural behaviour of the murderer add to the horror of such a scene and reflects upon this man’s insanity.The man worried that he may have caused his love pain, this is shown in the line; ‘No pain felt she;I am quite sure she felt no pain’.The repetition of the idea that Porphyria felt no pain suggests the man had to reassure himself as well as the reader of the account that Porphyria, felt no pain.
The gentleman proceeds to tell the reader how he could be quite sure that her death was painless. He describes it as:As a bud holds a beeI warily opened her lids; againLaughed the blue eyes without a stain.The comparison between Porphyria’s eyes and a bud suggests how cautious the man was at opening them for fear of seeing an expression of terror in them, much similar to how you would cautiously open a bud for fear of finding a bee and being stung. The man found no look of terror in the woman’s eyes and, relieved, he unwrapped the hair from around his lover’s neck.
The idea that Porphyria’s cheek ‘once again blushed bright’ refers to the sudden surge of blood being able to flow back to the woman’s head and face, thus giving her a final blushing appearance.’I propped her head up as beforeOnly this time my shoulder boreHer
head, which droops upon it’s still:The smiling rosy little head,So glad it had its utmost will,That all it scorned at once is fled,And I its love am gained instead.’These lines mean that he leant Porphyria’s head against his shoulder, as she had done just moments before. The man believed she was happy now he had killed her and stayed in the same physical position all night, sitting with her leaning against him. The gentleman believed he had done no wrong because god would have interrupted him had he done.The theme of this poem is the study of insanity.
~What makes the man appear to be insane is how he carried out a murder, completely unprovoked and in a calm state of mind. The man carried on after the death as if his actions had been completely acceptable, as god had not punished him or sent him a sign to say otherwise.The style of this poem is quite old fashioned, that is, the vocabulary of the piece is of several centuries ago. The use of metaphors allows the reader to visualise the scene e.g.
‘As a shut bud that holds a beeI warily opened her lids’This is particularly effective because it enables the reader to visualise the cautiousness of the action.The use of personification is effective (in the first four lines), giving the weather human qualities demonstrates its persistence.E.g.
‘The sullen wind was soon awake,It tore the elm tops down for spiteAnd did it’s best to vex the lake’Enjambement (in the sentences describing Porphyria’s death) conveys the continuous unhurried movements, willing the reader to continue.E.g. ‘In one yellow string I woundThree times her little throat around,And strangled her.’Robert Browning’s other poem; ‘The Laboratory’ is also about a psychotic murderer. The poem opens with the verse:Now that I, tying they glass mask tightly,May gave through these faint smokes curling whitely,As thou pliest thy trade in this devil’s smithy -Which is the poison to poison her prithee?From the mention of poisoning a female we know that a murder is being planned.
The reader is able to imagine the scene as the culprit ties the fume mask around her face and gazes around the laboratory at all the concoctions. The thought of curling white smoke suggests that Arsenic is being prepared.The second verse indicates the motive for the murder. The culprit is female and wishes her lover’s mistress dead for the betrayal. The woman imagines her lover to be laughing at her misfortune while he believes her to be at church crying for her loss, he is oblivious to her whereabouts as demonstrated in the lines;They believe my tears flowWhile they laugh, laugh at me, at me fled to the drearEmpty church, to pray God in, for them – I am here.
The next verse of the poem uses alliteration and rhyme when describing the making of the poison. This sets a sort of rhythm to the poem and may make it more appealing to the reader.’Grind away, moisten and mash up thy pasts,Pound at thy prouder – I am not in haste.’The last two lines of this verse explain the woman’s preference to watch