Porphyria’s Lover as a Psychological Poem
There are critics and commentators who are of the opinion that Porphyria’s Lover is a study in abnormal psychology. They base their opinion on the fact that in 1842 the poem was published in Dramatic Lyrics under the heading “Madhouse Cells” along with the poem, Johannes Agricola in Meditation. At the time the poem was composed, madness seems to have engaged the poetic attention of Browning, and in the almost contemporary poem Paracelsus he has referred to the madness of Christopher Smart (1722-71), the author of Song of David, in these lines :
“One man shall crawl
Through life surrounded with all stirring things,
Unmoved, and he goes mad; and from the wreck
Of what he was, by his wild talk alone
You first collect how great a spirit he had.”
There is no denying the fact that, whatever the real motive, the conduct of Porphyria’s lover is abnormal. No man, in normal state of mind, can strangle a woman in cold blood.
On a stormy night Porphyria comes to her lover in complete disregard of her status and marriage ties. She enters his cottage silently, shuts the door, takes off her dripping cloak, lets down her damp hair, sits by his side, takes his arm around her waist, bares her shoulder, removes her hair from there, and bending forward, makes his cheek rest on her soft, white bosom. She murmurs that she loves him and surrenders to him for ever. The lover is perched on the height of bliss. His heart swells with pride. Then he is seized with an abnormal fit of passion. He winds her beautiful long hair in a cord thrice round her little throat and strangles her.
This murderous act of the lover is surely abnormal. But the lover is not abnormal, as some have thought. The deed is abnormal, not the door.
The lover does not commit the murder in the heat of the moment. Before he kills her, he thinks and argues within himself what to do-whether to kill her or let her go. The following lines reveal this conflict in him:
“…….still it grew
While I debated what to do.”
After debating-and debating does not become an abnormal man–he decides upon murdering her:
“I found/A thing to do…..”
That he is not an abnormal man is borne out by the matter-of-fact way he narrates his heinous deed. The mode of his narration indicates no disorder in his mind. There is no incoherence in his narration or in the sequence of events.
He does not even murder his love in the heat of the moment as an abnormal man would have done. When a man commits murder on impulse, remorse or regret preys upon him immediately after the deed is done. But the lover does not have the least feeling of remorse or regret for what he has done. Rather he argues in support of his crime as if he has done a natural thing:
“No pain felt she;
I am quite sure she felt no pain.”
Mark the assertion “I am quite sure”. Does it become an abnormal man? The answer is emphatic ‘no’. ‘Surety’ is not a word to be found in the dictionary of an abnormal man.
The lover’s real motive in murdering Porphyria is his abnormal jealousy of her husband, his conjugal happiness and her pride in status. It is his jealousy that turns him into a cold blooded murderer. He murders her in order to hold her back from going back to her husband and thereby not to let himself be tortured again with jealousy. He does not want to let Porphyria’s husband enjoy what he himself cannot because of her regard for marriage conventions and family position. To speak the truth, the poem is a study in abnormal jealousy, and not in the abnormality of the lover.