Dramatic Romances, by Robert Browning

Porphyria’s Lover

The rain set early in to-night,

The sullen wind was soon awake,

It tore the elm-tops down for spite,

And did its worst to vex the lake:

I listened with heart fit to break.

When glided in Porphyria; straight

She shut the cold out and the storm,

And kneeled and made the cheerless grate

Blaze up, and all the cottage warm;

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Which done, she rose, and from her form

Withdrew the dripping cloak and shawl,

And laid her soiled gloves by, untied

Her hat and let the damp hair fall,

And, last, she sat down by my side

And called me. When no voice replied,

She put my arm about her waist,

And made her smooth white shoulder bare,

And all her yellow hair displaced,

And, stooping, made my cheek lie there,

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And spread, o’er all, her yellow hair,

Murmuring how she loved me — she

Too weak, for all her heart’s endeavour,

To set its struggling passion free

From pride, and vainer ties dissever,

And give herself to me for ever.

But passion sometimes would prevail,

Nor could to-night’s gay feast restrain

A sudden thought of one so pale

For love of her, and all in vain:

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So, she was come through wind and rain.

Be sure I looked up at her eyes

Happy and proud; at last I knew

Porphyria worshipped me; surprise

Made my heart swell, and still it grew

While I debated what to do.

That moment she was mine, mine, fair,

Perfectly pure and good: I found

A thing to do, and all her hair

In one long yellow string I wound

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Three times her little throat around,

And strangled her. No pain felt she;

I am quite sure she felt no pain.

As a shut bud that holds a bee,

I warily oped her lids: again

Laughed the blue eyes without a stain.

And I untightened next the tress

About her neck; her cheek once more

Blushed bright beneath my burning kiss:

I propped her head up as before,

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Only, this time my shoulder bore

Her head, which droops upon it still:

The smiling rosy little head,

So glad it has its utmost will,

That all it scorned at once is fled,

And I, its love, am gained instead!

Porphyria’s love: she guessed not how

Her darling one wish would be heard.

And thus we sit together now,

And all night long we have not stirred,

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And yet God has not said a word!

“Porphyria’s Lover” relates how, by strangling Porphyria with her own yellow hair, the lover seized and preserved the moment of perfect love when, pure and good, Porphyria left the world she could not forego for his sake, and came to him, for once conquered by her love. A latent misgiving as to his action is intimated in the closing line of the poem.

Remarking upon the fact that Browning removed the original title, “Madhouse Cells,” which headed this poem, and “Johannes Agricola in Meditation,” Mrs. Orr says: “Such a crime might be committed in a momentary aberration, or even intense excitement of feeling. It is characterized here by a matter-of-fact simplicity, which is its sign of madness. The distinction, however, is subtle; and we can easily guess why this and its companion poem did not retain their title. A madness which is fit for dramatic treatment is not sufficiently removed from sanity.”

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/b/browning/robert/dramatic/poem24.html

Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:32