In “Porphyria’s Lover”, Robert Browning dramatically builds intensity and exhibits the decline in the situation’s stability to express the impending doom of the characters’ love. The enigmatic tone suggests the fear in the lover’s heart would soon overcome him – the fear of the destiny of their forbidden love.
Throughout the poem, Browning intensifies the situation indicated by each narrative shift. There are several instances of this which correspond to a new action or a fresh point of view.
In line twenty-one, the transition from “me” to “she” occurs at the hyphen, indicating a new look on the situation. Before the hyphenated shift, the poem was a completely factual account of the actions taking place; it was storming, Porphyria came inside, she sat down next to her “lover” and then at the hyphen, the speaker begins analyzing the situation and interpreting her words.
This creates suspense because it places the control of the poem into the hands of her lover.
The second shift occurs between lines thirty-nine and forty-one. This is, perhaps, the most electrifying and suspenseful point in the poem. Preceding this narrative shift, a sense of discordance was barely present between the two characters.
This is noticed when Porphyria attempts to speak to her lover and “no voice relpl[ies]” (line 15). At the shift, the plot climactically intensifies when he strangles her to death. This horrifying action goes further to prove the presence of fear in the heart of the speaker. He could see no other reasonable course of action to take that would resolve their love’s predicament but to end it – with as little residual pain as possible.
Simultaneously, the poet uses normally innocent and customary descriptions in a way that highlight the degradation of the situation at hand. When Porphyria entered the cottage, she “withdrew [her] dripping cloak and shawl, / and laid her soiled gloves by” (lines 11-12). This relatively common act reveals something greater about the situation. When she came out of the dark stormy night and took off her cloak, she ultimately opens herself up completely to her lover, but the dirt on her gloves indicate something is wrong, something dark about their past.
Even more, this act shows the confinement placed upon her from the outside world’s disappointment; however, with him, she feels comfortable and trusts him entirely. This is all foreshadowing to the horrific events yet to take place and how their “struggling passion” would soon be relieved.
The devices reveal the backwards morals of the poem, the outcome of ill-destined love, and the fatal alteration of human behavior when tainted by passion and clouded with fear. The thrilling and constant addition of suspense along with the dissolving strength of the plot achieves the poet’s goal of creating a stunningly suspenseful rendition of a love story.
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