Comparing Browning Poems

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During the Victorian ere Browning wrote many dramatic monologues in which he describes the feelings of characters from a different time and in a different place to his readers. These monologues include the deepest feelings and emotions of the characters as well as telling the reader a story or what is happening to the particular character.

The poems I have chosen to look at to identify the similarities and differences are “My Last Duchess” and “Porphyria’s Lover”. I chose these two poems to compare because they are both based on love but there are twists in that both men who are speaking show signs of insanity and this results in the death of their female partners. I find these poems interesting from the very start as Browning has managed to engage the reader.

The poem “My Last Duchess” is clearly based on the Renaissance period and set in Italy which reflects that at this time the Victorians were very interested in other periods in history, the poem was originally entitled “Italy”, due to where it is set.

“Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule

She rode with round the terrace”

“Porphyria’s Lover” was published in 1836 and could be set in several eras but seems to reflect a Victorian lifestyle.

“Withdrew the dripping coat and shawl,

And laid her soiled gloves by, untied

Her hat and let the damp hair fall,”

At the beginning of “Porphyria’s Lover” Browning immediately begins to set the scene;

“The rain set early in to-night,

The sullen wind was soon awake,”

These lines create a strong atmosphere which help you to imagine a picture of where the scene is taking place – a very cold and wet, stormy night. This setting is often used at the start of an old fashioned horror film meaning that immediately the audience suspects that there will be disaster and death. Browning has done well to engage his reader using this introduction because people are now expecting a dramatic event which helps to hook them and convinces them to keep reading so that they can find out what happens next.

The beginning of “Porphyria’s Lover is different to the beginning of “My Last Duchess” because even though Browning does set the scene by saying,

“That’s My Last Duchess painted

On the wall”

This introduction shows us where the man is and allows the reader to have an idea of what is going on, but does not give the sense of drama like the introduction of “Porphyria’s Lover” does. Even without the more dramatic start Browning still manages to hook the reader using this sentence because by the Duke saying there is just a picture on the wall this points towards the idea that maybe the woman is dead. This woman is actually his late wife who has recently died, because of the small hints the Duke gives and the way he picks his words carefully when talking to his companion, I believe that he either killed her,

“Even had you skill

In speech – which I have not – to make your will”

himself or ordered someone else to do it for him, but either way he was involved with her death because he thought of her as being very flirtatious.

“She had

A heart – how shall I say? – too soon made glad,

Too easily impressed”

Because the assumption has been made by the reader that the Duke killed the Duchess the reader is drawn in to read more to discover the truth and whether they were correct.

The main similarities between the two poems are that they are both based on men who are in love with their female partners, and that both men get very jealous of the women and crave to have them for only themselves. This desire becomes so strong that both men are willing to kill their loved ones to ensure that no one else can have them. This is shown in “Porphyria’s Lover” when the man strangles Porphyria with her own hair.

“In one long yellow string I wound

Three times her little throat around

And strangled her.”

This quote from nearer the end of the poem incorporates both enjambment and rhyming; it also includes a strong rhythm where each line contains eight syllables, as well as giving us an example of adjectives used.

“And, stooping, made my cheek lie there,”

Throughout the poem the way Browning puts across the story and informs the reader of the events is very simplistic and calm. This gives the impression that the person said to be involved in the poem is a very straight forward person. Quotes also found in the text give us reason to believe that the murderer does not think that he has committed any crime or that he has done any wrong towards Porphyria. This suggests that the character has severe mental problems and has maybe committed murder previously. I feel that Browning has created this character will a deliberate intention to hook the reader while he unfolds the full extent of the character’s insanity and allows the reader to have a much more complex subject to think about while reading the end of the poem. One of the main give clues that he has mental problems is that he thinks of Porphyria as his own possession that he owns and has the right to do what he wants to her.

“That moment she was mine, mine”

Another clue of the character’s insanity is that after the man had killed Porphyria he sat with her in his arms waiting for God to punish him.

“And all night long we have not stirred,

And yet God has not said a word!”

For this quote Browning has used a rhyming couplet where he has chosen the last word of each sentence carefully so that they rhyme. Using this technique engages the reader by showing that the character thinks in a strange way and expects God to pay full attention to him as if he himself were a god. The male character then assumes that periphrastically what he has done was the right thing to do after receiving no punishment, just because he wants to keep her to himself forever.

This is similar to “My Last Duchess” in the way that the Duke wants to control his wife and acts as if she is his possession; this behaviour is continued ever after she dies by the way he acts as though he is guarding the painting.

“Since none puts by

The curtain I have drawn for you, but I,”

Browning has helped to hook the reader by portraying the Duke’s wife as maybe being unfaithful to her husband. In “My Last Duchess” it appears that the Duke was proud that he had his wife and attempts to show her off like a possession to the passing public when he says;

“Will’t please you sit and look at her.”

This line is placed in the poem to make the reader feel that they are being invited into the story, whereas he is actually inviting the father of his new wife to take a look. Through out the poem “My Last Duchess” Browning asks many questions directed at the ambassador which can appear to be aimed at the reader, these include;

“Who’d stoop to blame

Thus sort of trifling?”


“but who passed without

Much the same smile?”

Both of these examples include emjambement which again gives a very flowing effect allowing the sentence to flow from one line to the other. “Porphyria’s Lover” however is different from “My Last Duchess” because it does not include any questions and is written as more of a story whereas “My Last Duchess” manages to include the reader a lot more.

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