Porphyria’s lover is giving voice to ideas, emotions that are represented in middle class
society. Browning led the metre on in the first four lines of the poem to create the mood. The
metre breaks when he says, “Heart fit to break”. That’s when the reader starts to get an idea
that something isn’t right because the mood changes as soon as Porphyria enters. Browning
surprises the reader when the lover strangles Porphyria’s throat with her yellow hair.
Browning never gave a direct message from ‘Porphyria’s lover’ he let the poem end with
contradictions and left the reader confused. Browning put forward the concept of true love,
that one can go to any extent for the one he/she loves.
The first theme I identified in the poem is that of social class differences. I think ‘Porphyria’s
Lover’ is a representation of poverty, a class difference between the male and female.
Porphyria is portrayed to be the rich, elite, high-class girl whilst her lover is from the lower
class. Throughout the poem, we can see that her lover is a confused character, he isn’t sure
whether Porphyria’s love is pure or not. Maybe a reason for this is that he’s insecure about
himself, he thinks because she’s from a rich background she will eventually find someone
better than him, which he cannot stand. Browning hinted to the reader that Porphyria came
from a “gay feast” and her lover was in this cottage all alone. We get this because the
following line says, “A sudden…one so pale”, she got a thought of him all alone so she left
this gay feast to go to the cottage to be with him. Her lover isn’t confident about her love
because he claims that she’s “too weak”. Browning showed the reader that Porphyria
murmured that she loved him; she’s too weak to come out in the public and claim she loves
him because she’s afraid of what society thinks which is why he thinks that her love for him
is too weak.
The storm that is being described to us in the first four lines is a representation of her lover
and his feelings. The wind is Porphyria’s lover and the lake is Porphyria. The speaker is easy
to read from the start, he hints that something isn’t right from the second line once the wind
was “awake”. Once the storm was awake, it destroyed its surroundings as we can see in the
third line when Browning says the wind “tore the elm-tops down”. The wind tried to upset
the lake and this was before Browning introduced Porphyria and her lover. The wind is
foreshadowing what is going to happen, the wind is Porphyria’s lover and the lake that he
upset is representing Porphyria as he killed her, he broke her trust and became a different
person. Another idea may be that the storm is representing society’s reaction to Porphyria’s
lover. They are upset that she picked a lower class man and in result are furious with her, and
aren’t accepting them. Browning doesn’t make the idea clear and lets the reader make
their own assumptions.
When Porphyria attempted to seduce him and call out to him Browning said that “no voice
replied” but the reader doesn’t know why, maybe he’s speechless because of her beauty or
maybe he’s angry because she left him to go out to a party- it’s unclear. Even though it’s
clear that her lover is upset with her she doesn’t seem to care and still gets close to him to get
a response. After no voice replied in line 16, it says, “She put…her waist”. Porphyria is
giving herself to him but her lover knows she’s not going to be able to do it forever. He wants
to keep her for all eternity, he wants to take her away from her class name, and it’s almost as
if he’s possessive over her, which starts to show the reader that he could potentially go to any
lengths to get her to be his forever. Once her lover strangles her with her hair Browning
switches their roles. Now Porphyria is the still one that isn’t responding and her lover
suddenly comes out of his statue like figure once he “opened her lids”. Browning lets the
reader know their roles are reversed once he says, “Only, this time my shoulder bore”. Browning creates an image of a man laughing and playing with a dead body. Maybe that’s what Browning was aiming for, everyone thought they were reading a love poem but it ended up being a horror one.
The second theme is power in a relationship between a male and a female. Victorians referred
to women who have sex outside of marriage as “the fallen women”. In Porphyria’s lover,
Browning hinted to the reader that Porphyria was that fallen women. In line 13, it reads
“and let the damp hair fall”. The word ‘fall’ is the hint that she is a fallen woman as the poem
unfolds. This represents her bold move of going against societies rules and seeing him and
trying to seduce him as he isn’t replying or responded. It’s almost as if he is a living corpse
sat on a chair. Browning is getting ready to justify her lover’s actions; he refers to Porphyria
as weak and says she’s struggling to set her passion free- society still has a hold on her.