asrana (asrana) wrote in words_in_stasis,
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Browning

I don't actually like this poem. We discussed it in class for GCSE English and like usual I mostly sat there and said 'yes... and?' - and yet I can recite the first ten lines, and snippets of it often get stuck going round and round my head. Particularly these lines:


Robert Browning. 1812–1889
  

720. 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 listen'd with heart fit to break.
When glided in Porphyria; straight
She shut the cold out and the storm,
And kneel'd and made the cheerless grate
Blaze up, and all the cottage warm;
Which done, she rose, and from her form
Withdrew the dripping cloak and shawl,
And laid her soil'd gloves by, untied
Her hat and let the damp hair fall,
And, last, she sat down by my side
And call'd 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,
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:
So, she was come through wind and rain.
Be sure I look'd up at her eyes
Happy and proud; at last I knew
Porphyria worshipp'd 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
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
Laugh'd the blue eyes without a stain.
And I untighten'd next the tress
About her neck; her cheek once more
Blush'd bright beneath my burning kiss:
I propp'd her head up as before,
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 scorn'd at once is fled,
And I, its love, am gain'd instead!
Porphyria's love: she guess'd not how
Her darling one wish would be heard.
And thus we sit together now,
And all night long we have not stirr'd,
And yet God has not said a word!
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Heh. Timing. :)

I also did this - briefly - in school. I didn't like it much then (though loved, of course, the subject matter and ideas) but I obviously didn't look at it closely enough, because looking at it now, there are a lot of things about it that I love.

I still love the subject matter - naturally. I can't give any reason for that beyond that it aligns with my random fetishes. ~s~ And that it's one of the well-established presentations of pure madness - because to him it makes such perfect sense. I think it's a brave poem to have written, as well (which sounds patronising to Browning, but I don't mean it that way.)

But I used to dislike the actual words of the poem, whereas now I quite like the way he's put some things. Set in the middle of the soil'd and o'er and other floweriness, the total utter insane practicality of the following stands out in a way that makes my skin crawl :

Happy and proud; at last I knew
Porphyria worshipp'd 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


That's over-stating it - what you really need to be doing is reading the poem and having it chill you as you find it - but I thought I'd point it out because it's brilliant.
Equally brilliant is :
[...]No pain felt she;
I am quite sure she felt no pain.

Because...he isn't sure at all. But he's not going to think about it. But he's not sure. I find that terrifying - it's like being able to see the threads holding his remaining sanity in place.

Really, what the above poem is is a fairly standard horror story, rather neatly put in verse. I like horror stories, at least partly for the psychology of their main characters, which I think is beautifully portrayed here - both his and Porphyria's.

Still though, my favourite thing about the poem is the last bit.
And thus we sit together now,
And all night long we have not stirr'd,
And yet God has not said a word!


I think that's so brilliant that I can't actually find the words to say why, but I will try if you can't see it yourself. :)

E.
x
Well, yes, he's (the subject, I mean) utterly insane; it's quite clear and it's a startling look (well, it is for me anyway) inside a madman's head - to him it's all perfectly sensible and logical - or at least it is superficially and like you say he's not thinking about whether it really might have caused her pain or not.

I don't dislike the words, I actually think they're quite elegant and I like their flow - if I'm just, y'know, reading it. Not actually absorbing it. But if I want to look that bit deeper and really absorb the meaning of what he's saying I find... it's discordant. I'm used to the sentence running over into the next line, of course, it happens all the time, but the majority of the times it happens in this poem, it trips me up. I don't know why, but it makes me frustrated and then I have to make myself sit there and persevere through the rest of it because I know that the sense I get out at the end of it makes me go 'wow', and because I really do like the rhythm of the piece. I just, apparently, can't appreciate them both at the same time.

Anyway. Forgive my rambling, I just had supper with my family ;)

...While I debated what to do
... I found / A thing to do

Is, indeed very scary; I can't see any purpose or sense or... anything to it at all, and yet to him it was absolutely the most perfect thing to do in that golden moment when he realised she worshipped him... eerk.

Why do you think it's a brave poem for him to have written, btw?

Because...he isn't sure at all. But he's not going to think about it. But he's not sure. I find that terrifying - it's like being able to see the threads holding his remaining sanity in place.
I'm not sure I agree with that, but then I don't see any remaining shreds of sanity to be held in place. Rather I see a veil of self-delusion which wouldn't fool anyone in the world except himself.

Yes, I think the psychology of the main characters is nicely explained here; and fairly concisely too. And yet, curiously, I feel no emotion about Porphyria; I feel shock and horror and mild revulsion and so on and blahblah about him, but for her I'm just... *shrug* she loved him but she was torn between him and her family/social standing/whatever and hid it and then he strangled her. Ah well. What am I missing here?

And, if you could find the words to explain why
And yet God has not said a word!
is brillaint, I would be most grateful :)