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Brilliant poets surface many times by creating their individual styles of writing. They obtain their glory from their crafted masterpieces designed in ways like no other. Such is the case of Robert Browning and his dramatic monologue. Starting with Porphyrias Lover, he went on to perfect this form authoring many famous works in the process. This poem, once a collection under the title, The Madhouse Cells, depicts an unhealthy affair from a madman's perspective. In Robert Brownings dramatic monologue, Porphyrias Lover, imagery carefully illustrates the struggle for control between two lovers drawing the reader into their twisted relationship with evidences of insanity.
In the beginning lines of the poem Porphyrias nonverbal communication displays her control over her lover. Finding him in his usual state of psychosis, concentrating on the storm outside, Porphyria enters and assumes her role of dominance obvious to the reader that she has been to this place many times. The poet writes, She shut the cold out and the storm, (7). Upon the entrance of the woman, she brings life into his cold, dark room replacing isolation with artificial comfort. She has the power to alter his mood. Her lover says, [She] made the cheerless grate/ Blaze up, and all the cottage warm; (8 - 9).
Porphyria has the ability to transform his surroundings just by standing in the room with him. She, full of life, is seen as the opposite of her lover who is lost deep into madness. He goes on, When no voice replied, / She put my arm about her waist, (15 - 16). She calls to him, but is unable to reach him and receives no response. The woman plays the part of a man in their interaction when she physically forces her lover to reach out and touch her as if he is paralyzed. Paralyzed by madness, seeing her in front of him, knowing she is in control drives him farther away as it shows him his impotence and inability to totally possess her.
This serves as a symbol for their entire relationship. She brushes back her long her long, gold hair, pulls his cheek down upon her bare shoulder (which she has exposed with deliberate calculation), and finally spreads her hair over his head and face. He is encased in her flesh and hair; the world is shut out, and he is a little child retreating to the security of the womb. (Crowell 81). Making all the moves, the woman expects this visit to go like any other: she takes from him what she needs giving him only partially what he wants. They use each other for different purposes in their affair.
She overpowers him with sexual dominance toying with his emotions and he drifts from reality erroneously imagining that he is the strong one and that she belongs to him. Both understanding that he suffers from a psychic sickness, they engage in this liaison for selfish reasons. Towards the mid-section of the poem, the struggle for control subconsciously continues and the dominance transitions. The poet writes, Murmuring how she loved me-she/ Too weak, for all her hearts endeavour To set its struggling passion free/ From pride and vainer ties dissever, /And give herself to me forever. (21 - 22, 25). Porphyria weakens and displays what her lover sees as vulnerability. He takes interest and the control begins to shift.
In attempt to make the man feel better, but expecting this behavior from him, the woman explains how her heart has been divided. While embracing one another she tells him although she wants to, she doesnt have the strength to give up everything for her lover. There are things holding her back from complete devotion. She talks to him as if he is a child, murmuring softly instead of boldly speaking.
Showing no sign that she is unhappy with his state, she treats him as if he is beneath her even denying him normal adult conversation. His delusions lead him to believe her desire for him goes beyond physicality into something deep and meaningful. He excitedly says, [A]t last I knew/ Porphyria worshipped me; (32 - 33). After confessing to him what he wants to hear, the man believes that deep down Porphyria truly loves him. This brings him great joy because he has sought her unconditional love for so long.
His lunacy surfaces when he is seen delighting in his total possession of another human being even if it is false. This is the reversal of roles that he has longed for and never found, and this fulfills him beyond his dreams (Park 21). Porphyria perhaps acted too boldly in this visit. Letting her guard down, she stirs her lover from his catatonia.
She has awakened him dangerously and now must deal with his reaction. By the end of this portion, control over the situation slips away from her. The end section of the poem contains word pictures that reveal that the insane lover has now obtained control. Deciding he must act immediately to keep his moment of happiness that makes his heart swell, he takes her the only possible way he can.
The madman speaks, That moment she was mine and all her hair/ In one long yellow string I wound/ Three times her little throat around, / And strangled her, (36, 38 - 41). The womans irrational lover believes in his heart that he finally has complete possession of her and he takes advantage of it. He reacts in violence to make her his forever in the only way he knows how, in the belief that since she is too weak to make the decision she presumably wants, he will make the decision for her and thus do her the great service she really desires (Jacobs 8). To preserve this moment of perfection and beauty, to celebrate his achieved conquest, he believes he must not let the moment die, but instead make it last for eternity.
To keep her with him forever completely surrendered is his intent so he takes her life believing he will have her always. He imprisons her forcing her to join him and thus relieving his isolation. As long as she belongs to him, it matters not if she breathes. After she is gone, he explains, I propped her head up as before, / Only, this time my shoulder bore/ Her head, which droops upon it still: So glad it has its utmost will, (49 - 51, 53). The madman picks her up as is she is a doll to be held definitely not a usual response to the death of a loved.
He thinks her soul has reached satisfaction because she has gained him-that this is what it has wanted all along. In an obvious state of lunacy he claims, And thus we sit together now, / And all night long we have not stirred, / And yet God has not said a word, (58 - 60). After his ultimate display of control and perverted masculinity, the demented murderer clutches the dead girl close to him next to the fireplace undisturbed all through the night. He makes his own rules of conduct and considers this act of deity, this denial of his lovers life, must earn Gods approval (Crowell 83). In his crazed mind, he has stopped time from passing on from this point, and he has reached a state of unnerving bliss that binds him to his chambers holding this once vibrant creature now lifeless in his possession. The relationship between Porphyria and her lover escalates into an unbalanced connection that drives a madman farther into insanity at the cost of his lovers life.
Although hers is not as extreme, she is no stranger to maniacal tendencies proven by the fact she involves herself with this lunatic. Manipulation pushes the lover off the edge and in turn kills her as well. Through descriptive imagery-filled lines, the reader sees the battle for control and understands the factors such as lust, selfishness, dishonesty, and insanity that contribute to the fateful outcome of this conjugal meeting. Robert Browning uses his simple words well in this poem to draw the picture of the situation as one that holds deeper issues and motives not directly stated in its content.
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