Audio: “Porphyria’s Lover” by Robert Browning
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“Porphyria’s Lover” is a poem by Robert Browning and it was first published as “Porphyria” in the January 1836 issue of Monthly Repository. Browning later republished it in Dramatic Lyrics (1842) paired with “Johannes Agricola in Meditation” under the title “Madhouse Cells.” The poem did not receive its definitive title until 1863.
“Porphyria’s Lover” is Browning’s first ever short dramatic monologue, and also the first of his poems to examine abnormal psychology. Although its initial publication passed nearly unnoticed and it received little critical attention in the nineteenth century, the poem is now heavily anthologised and much studied.
In the poem, a man strangles his lover — Porphyria — with her hair; “… and all her hair / In one long yellow string I wound / Three times her little throat around, / And strangled her.” Porphyria’s lover then talks of the corpse’s blue eyes, golden hair, and describes the feeling of perfect happiness the murder gives him. Although he winds her hair around her throat 3 times in order to throttle her, the woman never cries out. The poem contains different rhyming patterns which use letters. The letter formation is A,B,A,B,B,C,D,C,D,D and so on. This goes by the ending, rhyming letters on the ending word of each line.
A possible inspiration for the poem is John Wilson’s “Extracts from Gosschen’s Diary”, a lurid account of a murder published in Blackwood’s Magazine in 1818. Browning’s friend and fellow poet Bryan Procter acknowledged basing his 1820 “Marcian Colonna” on this source, but added a new detail; after the murder, the killer sits up all night with his victim.
Video produced and copyright to Robert Nichol 2013.