Authors can create work that they enjoy by employing various writing strategies. Each writer is distinguished by their use of language and the manner in which they express their ideas. In poetry, words are incredibly powerful, healing, mystical, and effective to society. Looking at early-Victorian poetry, numerous poets, including Robert Browning, are still recognized and written about today. Robert Browning is, in fact, a unique poet who defies categorization. Like many Victorian poets, he deals extensively with a conflict between romance and nature, and science and religion, through imagery and senses. This paper will examine one of Browning’s poems, “Porphyria’s lover,” focusing on his use of binary oppositions such as life/death and reliability/unreliability.
Browning’s “Porphyria’s lover,” is a twisted and dark monologue about a couple, specifically the speaker and his fiancée, Porphyria. Porphyria pays a visit to the speaker during a storm; however, he does not appear affected by her affection. He notices the strong desire in Porphyria’s eyes as she starts talking about the challenges she has endured. As a result, the speaker states, “Porphyria worshipped me” (Browning, Line 32-33). As he does not want that event to pass, the speaker ties Porphyria’s hair around her neck and suffocates her to death. He even goes ahead with playing with her dead body as if it were a toy. At the poem’s ending, the speaker states, “…yet God has not said a world!” (Browning, Line 60). In this case, the connection between love and murder is represented by Robert Browning’s use of binary opposition. This couple dramatically exemplifies these two conflicting constructs. Intuitively, one can ask, “If there is love, compassion, and an attachment, does violent behavior or murder have any place in a relationship?”
The dramatic speaker attempts to defend his murder of Porphyria. He suggests that she, too, desired to die, stating: “So glad it has its utmost will, That all it scorned once is fled, And I, its love, am gained instead”(Browning, Line 52-55). Nevertheless, as soon as the judging begins, his identification as the guilty person is confirmed. The speaker employs language to cover up his mystery, but the discrepancies in his utterance expose him since the language he employs is unsteady and incapable of producing implicit meaning. It is plausible to see the reflection of his mind as demonstrated from his perspective through such an illustration. The speaker murders his beloved to capture the moment and immortalize her; even so, this is not conceivable. He murders her and then acts like nothing ever occurred.
Moreover, this occurrence constructs a binary opposition between death and life. Even though life, as the metaphysical symbolized, appears to be the affluent at times, death is depicted as something peaceful rather than sorrowful or painful. As a cheerful, enthusiastic young lady, Porphyria has feelings for the speaker. She transforms even the cold cabin into something welcoming and warm. Porphyria approaches him, most likely to have a sexual interaction, but her motive goes wrong. Contrariwise, she fails to give up. In his view, Porphyria is flawlessly “pure and good” (Browning, Line 36). Surprisingly, he ends up strangling her to death. Based on the speaker’s words, “No pain felt she; I am quite sure she felt no pain” (Browning, Line 41-42), the reader can view death as not being violent, sad, or painful. It is almost certain that she experienced pain while being strangled, but it is difficult to learn about it from how it is represented because Robert Browning does not provide the girl’s viewpoint in the poem. This diminishes the reliability of the speaker’s account. He is not sorrowful or remorseful for his actions. Besides, death does not bother him.
Furthermore, the speaker’s unreliability in his act sets up a binary opposition, particularly reliability and unreliability. As a result, it is plausible to say that he does not provide objective narration. The speaker’s narration is ambiguous because it is unclear whether the information he articulates is accurate and reliable. He most likely has a psychological issue that diminishes his dependability. His version of the events and how they transpired illustrates that it is only an incomplete retelling of the real incident. For instance, the speaker claims that the arrival of Porphyria causes the environment to warm up. As the language is unpredictable and unfixed, it may not accurately represent reality. As a result, what the audience interprets in the speaker’s account may be skewed.
Conclusively, Browning’s Porphyria Lover emphasizes the significance of opposing concepts disclosing his capacity to utilize an original strategy when still handling a theme that is rather striking and alluring for the audience. He demonstrates a dramatic connection between love, violence, and murder through binary opposition. This exemplifies Browning as a unique poet who can identify harmony or cohesiveness in opposing ideas and employ them in his work.
Browning, Robert. “Porphyria’s Lover.” The Norton Anthology English Literature: The Victorian Age, edited by Stephen Greenblatt, W. W. Norton & Company (10th Ed.), 2018.