Thursday, 4 March 2010

Porphyria's Lover by Robert Browning

So for the few people that may read this blog and not actually know who I am, I am a metal vocalist for the folk metal band Northern Oak [ ]. We are currently working on a new song, imagineered by our very sexy keyboard player, which did come with some lyrics that I have declined to use.

However those lyrics did remind of the fine poem that is Porphyria's Lover by Robert Browning.

From the beginning, the poem is filled with macabre life as the elements and nature are given personalities and I love the idea that a lake could be vexed.

At which point Porphyria streams into the piece like a ray of light, with golden hair, blue eyes and rosy cheeks she is the only mention of colour in the poem. Despite her turning up through the rain and warming the place up, our narrator is still moping. Presumably in part because she started the night at the 'gay feast' and also because he is convinced she does not really love him.

Now there is something that has to be said for Male logic in this sense. Not only are we bloody dense when it comes to noticing that a girl likes us, we're also more than content to sulk that our Porphyria's do not really love us, despite leaving parties and braving the elements, than appreciate what we've got and get on with it. I know I've been guilty of this form of retardation before!

This is simply an aside though as now we've reached the malevolent thought at the heart of the poem. Our narrator has finally understood that despite the constraints society has placed upon her (From pride, and vainer ties dissever) that she want to be with him. Now there are plenty of things that could be done here; give a middle finger to society and run with it, elope or leave it be and remember the romance as the page you always wish you had turned, to name but a few.

Instead the narrator chooses to grab her beautiful hair and strangle her with it and the poem suddenly bursts forth with questions about ownership. Porphyria clearly loves him, based on her actions but it is only once he has killed her that he feels he truly has her love and no longer receives any 'scorn'.

The choice of the word 'scorn' always sticks out to me, did he believe she did not think him good enough somehow? A thought that occurs to me only now is that I assumed the narrator to be a man but no gender is ever given. Perhaps Porphyria's Lover is a woman which may be why scorn came from that 'little head' and drove the lover to such a violent act.

Something that is not fully explored in the poem but has always been the next mental step for me, is the finality of the act. Now she is dead she cannot change her mind, she cannot stop loving them, the outside world cannot interject and she can never grow old. She died in the peak of her beauty, surrendering herself to the narrator. Would they ever have a more perfect moment with her? Is there some sick justification here?

The final lines are what truly capture me though,

And all night long we have not stirred, / and yet god has not said a word!

The idea that because nothing has changed, no chorus of angels' tears, no hounds of hell unleashed that somehow, there is the divine approval for their actions. That's just an epic piece of darkness.

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