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Porphyria's Lover

Porphyria's Lover

by Robert Browning

Lines 1-9 Summary

Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.

Lines 1-5

The rain set early in tonight,
The sullen wind was soon awake,
It tore the elm-tops down for spite,
And did its worst to vex the lake:
I listened with heart fit to break.

  • It's a dark and stormy night. Isn't that the way all thrillers are supposed to start?
  • Browning introduces a bit of a twist, though: he uses words like "sullen" and "spite" to describe the weather, so that it seems as though the weather is bad on purpose, just to be mean or "spiteful."
  • The first four lines just describe the weather, not the speaker.
  • The unnamed speaker of the poem isn't introduced at all until line 5: "I listened with heart fit to break."
  • This is the first hint that the speaker might not be mentally stable: why should a storm make him feel heartbroken? Or is something else wrong?

Lines 6-9

When glided in Porphyria; straight
She shut the cold out and the storm,
And kneeled and made the cheerless grate
Blaze up, and all the cottage warm;

  • Porphyria enters the house and starts a fire in the fireplace, to make the place more cheery and warm.
  • She is neither introduced nor described as she enters – Porphyria just walks into the poem without any explanation.
  • She doesn't walk in, actually – she "glides" in, like a ghost. Do her feet not touch the ground?
  • And the way the speaker describes her making the fire is strange, too. He skips steps, like putting wood into the grate and lighting a match, even though he details her other movements in the poem. Porphyria is somehow able to "ma[k]e the cheerless grate/ Blaze up" without taking all those necessary preliminary steps. Is she magic? Or does she just seem magical to the speaker?

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