by Robert Browning
The speaker of "Porphyria's Lover" opens by describing the storm outside. Oddly, he describes the storm with adjectives that suggest that the weather is conscious of what it's doing. A Victorian critic named John Ruskin scathingly ridiculed this literary move, in which the outside world is described in a way that reflects the inner mood of a character. He called it the "pathetic fallacy." After all, Ruskin pointed out, the weather isn't conscious of whether we're in a good mood or not. It's not like it starts raining just because we're heartbroken, or turns sunny and warm the moment we fall in love. Writing poems or novels in which the weather reflects the inner state of the characters, Ruskin argued, is just bad craftsmanship.
- Line 2: The words "sullen" and "awake" personify the weather. It's not like the wind can literally feel "sullen," nor was it asleep before it started to pick up.
- Line 3: More of what Ruskin calls the "pathetic fallacy": the wind doesn't actually feel "spite" when it tears up the trees. Browning just decided to personify it again.
- Line 4: And now the lake is being personified. You can't really "vex," or irritate, a body of water, no matter how hard you splash it.
- Line 7: Porphyria has some kind of power over the storm – she is able to "shut [it] out" almost instantaneously. The speaker doesn't describe her actions – only their effects.