Love, The Invisible Driving Force in Porphyria’s Lover
Love is one of the most complicated human emotions. It has driven many individuals to engage in actions that they would otherwise not partake in. Love is the emotion that launched a thousand Greek ships towards Troy, and guided Dante into the depths of Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise itself. Love is able to manifest itself in a myriad of different forms and feelings, from the weakest forms of affection to the strongest bonds forged from time and dedication. However, within the strength of love lies perversion. I believe that love is the driving force behind all human actions, whether they be pure or immoral. When one loves money to an extreme, they are being avaricious, sinful. Their love is twisted and impure, taking love to an immoral extreme. When one loves another with only good intentions, then their actions will reflect this. In “Porphyria’s Lover,” the focus is on this major theme of love and its control over human actions.
Within “Porphyria’s Lover,” we are presented a story told from the perspective of Porphyria’s unnamed lover and are given his thoughts and emotions regarding Porphyria. From the beginning, we are allowed insight into the narrator’s inner thoughts. This glimpse into his mind allows us to examine the inner workings of and justification for his actions. From the beginning, the narrator is watching Porphyria, judging her reactions to his actions, or in this case, lack of. The narrator does not respond verbally or physically to Porphyria. Until, Porphyria tells the narrator that she loves him, and the narrator gazes within her eyes on lines 31 to 35, stating “Be sure I looked up at her eyes / Happy and proud; at last I knew/ Porphyria worshiped me; surprise / Made my heart swell, and still it grew / While I debated what to do.” (Browning 1325) Porphyria’s lover is given a sense of affirmation by looking into Porphyria’s eyes, seeing his own love being returned through her worship of him. This confirmation of love, to the narrator, is all he had been seeking, opening some inner door of his heart, and allowing his own love to become tainted. The narrator becomes driven by his love, now too strong for him to even control. His love turns from a pure love into a twisted, excessive love. His new-found strength of heart possesses him and drives him to take control of what is in front of him. He believes now that Porphyria’s heart and mind belongs to him, and wishes to never lose it. Instantly, he comes to realize that the only way to keep Porphyria’s love forever is to make it so that she will never be able to lose her love for him. The narrator’s love drives him to preserve this scene, this sense of happiness that now flowed through the narrator. And because he loved Porphyria now, to excess, his love drove his actions. And it can be said that Porphyria’s own love for the narrator drove her lack of action as well. As the narrator begins to strangle Porphyria, he knows that he will be able to preserve this love that he has been given forever by removing any chance it has of being lost. David Eggenschwiler echoes this sentiment, saying that “[The narrator] strangles Porphyria with her own hair, as a culminating expression of his love and in order to preserve unchanged the perfect moment of her surrender to him.” (Eggenschwiler 40) The last words are perhaps the most important, highlighting Porphyria’s “surrender” to her lover. However, it is not only her lover who she is surrendering to, as she is surrendering to her own heart as well. Porphyria is giving in to her lover physically, and to her own heart emotionally. Her love has culminated into a paralyzing poison that has locked her limbs and mind. Porphyria’s own love causes her to allow her own death, perhaps for the same reason that the narrator brings it about. She may think that there is no greater feeling than the one that she is feeling now, and death will ensure that she will never have to experience the loss of this feeling. And why wouldn’t she want this? One of the greatest opponents of love is fear. Fear for the unknown, fear of loss, fear of the absence of love itself. And to combat her fears, she has surrendered control of her fate to her love, and to her lover. Had she not embraced her death, Porphyria may have become uncertain of her own future, and began to fear what would happen to her. She recognized, at that moment, that in order to transcend her fears, she would allow her love to guide her actions, and allow her lover to take control of her fears and snuff them out of existence, along with her life.
The power of love is so incredibly complex, and so varied, that it is difficult to explain its grips on human nature. We are given a scene of strangulation, with the only sin the victim has committed was showing her true love and devotion to another human being. But due to exactly that, we, as humans, are able to gain that much more insight into the true power that lies behind love. We are able to see and sense the strength it commands, and the hearts that it guides. It allows us to perform actions that we may not have thought possible before, guiding us through invisible ties, pushing us towards some goal that may not seem clear at the time. But despite all of this, love is allows the heart to achieve whatever it most desires, guiding our actions in ways that many dare not even dream of. And it is because of this mystery, the unknown seems fearful. But those that adhere to their love and the actions it drives from them are rewarded, though it may not seem that way to others. Each individual experiences love differently, and achieve different ends.
Eggenschwiler, David. “Psychological Complexity in “Porphyria’s Lover””. Victorian Poetry 8.1 (1970): 39–48. Web.
Browning, Robert. “Porphyria’s Lover.” The Longman Anthology of British Literature. Ed. David Damrosch & Kevin J.H. Dettmar. 5th Ed. Vol. 2A. New York: Longman, 2012. 1325-6. Print.