Robert Browning

by PammyMcB

Porphyria’s Lover

The rain set early in to-night,
       The sullen wind was soon awake,
It tore the elm-tops down for spite,
       And did its worst to vex the lake:
       I listened with heart fit to break.
When glided in Porphyria; straight
       She shut the cold out and the storm,
And kneeled and made the cheerless grate
       Blaze up, and all the cottage warm;
       Which done, she rose, and from her form
Withdrew the dripping cloak and shawl,
       And laid her soiled gloves by, untied
Her hat and let the damp hair fall,
       And, last, she sat down by my side
       And called me. When no voice replied,
She put my arm about her waist,
       And made her smooth white shoulder bare,
And all her yellow hair displaced,
       And, stooping, made my cheek lie there,
       And spread, o’er all, her yellow hair,
Murmuring how she loved me — she
       Too weak, for all her heart’s endeavour,
To set its struggling passion free
       From pride, and vainer ties dissever,
       And give herself to me for ever.
But passion sometimes would prevail,
       Nor could to-night’s gay feast restrain
A sudden thought of one so pale
       For love of her, and all in vain:
       So, she was come through wind and rain.
Be sure I looked up at her eyes
       Happy and proud; at last I knew
Porphyria worshipped me; surprise
       Made my heart swell, and still it grew
       While I debated what to do.
That moment she was mine, mine, fair,
       Perfectly pure and good: I found
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.
As a shut bud that holds a bee,
       I warily oped her lids: again
       Laughed the blue eyes without a stain.
And I untightened next the tress
       About her neck; her cheek once more
Blushed bright beneath my burning kiss:
       I propped her head up as before,
       Only, this time my shoulder bore
Her head, which droops upon it still:
       The smiling rosy little head,
So glad it has its utmost will,
       That all it scorned at once is fled,
       And I, its love, am gained instead!
Porphyria’s love: she guessed not how
       Her darling one wish would be heard.
And thus we sit together now,
       And all night long we have not stirred,
       And yet God has not said a word!

Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister

Gr-r-r — there go, my heart’s abhorrence!
   Water your damned flower-pots, do!
If hate killed men, Brother Lawrence,
   God’s blood, would not mine kill you!
What? your myrtle-bush wants trimming?
   Oh, that rose has prior claims —
Needs its leaden vase filled brimming?
   Hell dry you up with its flames!
At the meal we sit together;
   Salve tibi! I must hear
Wise talk of the kind of weather,
   Sort of season, time of year:
Not a plenteous cork-crop: scarcely
   Dare we hope oak-galls, I doubt;
What’s the Latin name for “parsley?”
   What’s the Greek name for Swine’s Snout?
Whew! We’ll have our platter burnished,
   Laid with care on our own shelf!
With a fire-new spoon we’re furnished,
   And a goblet for ourself,
Rinsed like something sacrificial
   Ere ’tis fit to touch our chaps —
Marked with L. for our initial!
   (He-he! There his lily snaps!)
Saint, forsooth! While brown Dolores
   Squats outside the Convent bank
With Sanchicha, telling stories,
   Steeping tresses in the tank,
Blue-black, lustrous, thick like horsehairs,
   — Can’t I see his dead eye glow,
Bright as ’twere a Barbary corsair’s?
   (That is, if he’d let it show!)
When he finishes refection,
   Knife and fork he never lays
Cross-wise, to my recollection,
   As do I, in Jesu’s praise.
I the Trinity illustrate,
   Drinking watered orange-pulp —
In three sips the Arian frustrate;
   While he drains his at one gulp.
Oh, those melons? If he’s able
   We’re to have a feast! so nice!
One goes to the Abbot’s table,
   All of us get each a slice.
How go on your flowers? None double?
   Not one fruit-sort can you spy?
Strange! — And I, too, at such trouble,
   Keep them close-nipped on the sly!
There’s a great text in Galatians,
   Once you trip on it, entails
Twenty-nine distinct damnations,
   One sure, if another fails:
If I trip him just a-dying,
   Sure of heaven as sure as can be,
Spin him round and send him flying
   Off to hell, a Manichee?
Or, my scrofulous French novel
   On grey paper with blunt type!
Simply glance at it, you grovel
   Hand and foot in Belial’s gripe:
If I double down its pages
   At the woeful sixteenth print,
When he gathers his greengages,
   Ope a sieve and slip it in ’t?
Or, there’s Satan! — one might venture
   Pledge one’s soul to him, yet leave
Such a flaw in the indenture
   As he’d miss till, past retrieve,
Blasted lay that rose-acacia
   We’re so proud of! Hy, Zy, Hine …
“St, there’s Vespers! Plena gratiâ
   Ave, Virgo! Gr-r-r — you swine!

I was very disturbed when I read “Porphyria’s Lover.” I thought, “Oh my! I didn’t just read a poem about auto-erotic asphyxiation, did I?” Browning’s poetry is, by far, more different than anything else we have read. It is so violent. Browning feels that sin motivates people. According to Browning, Victorian times brought about a sense of moral decay. He was attempting to find an end to the struggle between morality and sensuality. There is also an outcry against religious instability found in Browning’s poetry. Overall, he was trying to make the reader more aware of the world in which they lived.

“That moment she was mine,…I am quite sure she felt no pain.” (“Porphyria’s Lover;” lines 36-42)

In order for the character to maintain the innocence of this moment of prohibited sex forever, he strangles the young girl. It is this fine line between sensuality and morality that the character struggles with.

“And this we sit together now, / And all night long we have not stirred, / And yet God has not said a word!” (“Porphyria’s Lover;” lines 58-60)

The character is still satisfying his senses by his play and embrace of Porphyria’s corpse. He tells us that his actions are acceptable because God has not struck him down. God has done nothing. Browning is prompting the reader to ask where The Church is when all of this immoral behavior is going on.

Text: “G-r-r-r – there go, my heart’s abhorrence!…would not mine kill you!” (“Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister;”)

This monk is having evil thoughts about Brother Lawrence. He has hatred in his heart. The character is thinking of killing Brother Lawrence. Browning is trying to get the reader to realize that even the most trusted members of The Church are not free from sin.

Stanza 9 of “Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister” (lines 65-73)

The monk even speaks of striking a deal with Satan in order to betray his brother. The speaker says, however, that he plans to betray Satan as well. A sin such as a monk making a deal with Satan is one of the worst sins that one could commit. This is a good example of how Browning is trying to get the reader to see the severity of the crimes committed by those in charge of The Church.

The visions that Browning gives us from his poetry are not only reflective of his era, but also reflective of ours. Browning’s use of monks throughout “Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister” allows the reader to see that not even the holiest of men are not free from sin. They cannot be trusted either. In today’s society there is also a distrust of clergy. In “Porphyria’s Lover,” we get a portrait of a murderer who likes to toy with the corpse of his victim. This is not unlike men such as Jeffrey Dahmer. The similarities between both societies are astounding.