Porphyria's Lover

Original Text: 
Robert Browning, The Poetical Works of Robert Browning (London: Smith, Elder, & Co., 1888), 5: 191-93.
2     The sullen wind was soon awake,
3It tore the elm-tops down for spite,
4     And did its worst to vex the lake:
5     I listened with heart fit to break.
7     She shut the cold out and the storm,
9     Blaze up, and all the cottage warm;
10     Which done, she rose, and from her form
11Withdrew the dripping cloak and shawl,
12     And laid her soiled gloves by, untied
13Her hat and let the damp hair fall,
14     And, last, she sat down by my side
15     And called me. When no voice replied,
16She put my arm about her waist,
17     And made her smooth white shoulder bare,
18And all her yellow hair displaced,
19     And, stooping, made my cheek lie there,
20     And spread, o'er all, her yellow hair,
21Murmuring how she loved me --- she
22     Too weak, for all her heart's endeavour,
23To set its struggling passion free
24     From pride, and vainer ties dissever,
25     And give herself to me for ever.
26But passion sometimes would prevail,
27     Nor could to-night's gay feast restrain
28A sudden thought of one so pale
29     For love of her, and all in vain:
30     So, she was come through wind and rain.
31Be sure I looked up at her eyes
32     Happy and proud; at last I knew
33Porphyria worshipped me; surprise
34     Made my heart swell, and still it grew
35     While I debated what to do.
36That moment she was mine, mine, fair,
37     Perfectly pure and good: I found
38A thing to do, and all her hair
39     In one long yellow string I wound
40     Three times her little throat around,
41And strangled her. No pain felt she;
42     I am quite sure she felt no pain.
43As a shut bud that holds a bee,
45     Laughed the blue eyes without a stain.
46And I untightened next the tress
47     About her neck; her cheek once more
48Blushed bright beneath my burning kiss:
49     I propped her head up as before,
50     Only, this time my shoulder bore
51Her head, which droops upon it still:
52     The smiling rosy little head,
53So glad it has its utmost will,
54     That all it scorned at once is fled,
55     And I, its love, am gained instead!
56Porphyria's love: she guessed not how
57     Her darling one wish would be heard.
58And thus we sit together now,
59     And all night long we have not stirred,

Notes

1] This poem was often grouped by Browning with "Johannes Agricola in Meditation": when published together, the pair of poems were usually titled "Madhouse Cells" and lost their individual titles. Notice how the twelve, five-line stanzas are hidden by the poem's diction and visual appearance. Back to Line
6] Porphyria: the name for this ill-fated woman derives from the Greek word πορφυρος, meaning purple. The related word porphyry is often used by poets to mean a very beautiful purple stone similar to marble. In the twentieth century, medical researchers identified a condition that is generally called Porphyria, a common manifestation of which is Acute Intermittent Porphyria: it is sometimes characterized by mental confusion, hallucinations, and extreme sensitivity to light. While the name for the disorder was probably not inspired by Browning's poem, the relationship between the disorder and this poem is intriguing. Back to Line
8] Grate: i.e., fireplace. Back to Line
44] I warily oped her lids: I carefully opened her eyelids. Back to Line
60] The tone of the final line is unclear: is the speaker of the poem here expressing surprise? defiance? mischievousness? despair? Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
1836
RPO poem Editors: 
Marc R. Plamondon
RPO Edition: 
2005
Rhyme: