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Porphyria's Lover

Porphyria's Lover


by Robert Browning

Lines 21-35 Summary

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

Lines 21-25

Murmuring how she loved me – she
Too weak, for all her heart's endeavor,
To set its struggling passion free
From pride, and vainer ties dissever,
And give herself to me forever.

  • Porphyria "murmur[s]" that she loves him. Is she "murmuring" because she's hesitant? Or because she's shy? Or is she whispering in a flirtatious manner? It's not clear.
  • Porphyria tells the speaker that she loves him, but he cuts her off with a dash to criticize her for being "too weak" to cut herself off from "vainer ties" to be with him. Of course, he doesn't say any of that out loud, it's all part of his monologue.
  • We're not sure what those "vainer ties" are. Some critics speculate that Porphyria is richer than the speaker, and so those "vainer ties" are her ties to her rich family. Or maybe she has a rich fiancé who she's reluctant to break up with for the speaker. Or maybe she's been hesitating about whether or not to sleep with the speaker, and she's too "vain" to go against Victorian social and sexual codes to have sex before marriage.
  • In any case, the speaker seems unimpressed when she tells him that she loves him. After all, she hasn't been willing to break, or "dissever," whatever those "vainer ties" are.

Lines 26-30

But passion sometimes would prevail,
Nor could tonight'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.

  • Then again, though, the speaker recalls that Porphyria's passion for him was great enough for her to skip out on a fancy party ("gay feast") and to come through the storm just to be with him.
  • Just the thought of him, he figures, sitting by himself, all lonely and in love with her, was enough to bring her "through wind and rain."
  • She must really love him!

Lines 31-35

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.

  • At line 31, the speaker finally does something: he "look[s] up" at Porphyria.
  • Up until now, the speaker has been passive, allowing Porphyria to make the fire and to rearrange his arms and head. Finally, he does something, even if it's only to look at her.
  • It's not clear whether Porphyria's "eye[s]" are "happy and proud," or whether "happy and proud" describes the speaker. It could work either way, but if they describe Porphyria, it's important to remember that it's from the speaker's point of view only.
  • He's delighted to realize how much she loves him, and he's "surprise[d]" by it.
  • It takes him a few minutes to decide "what to do."

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