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Porphyria's Lover

Porphyria's Lover

by Robert Browning

Analysis: What's Up With the Title?

We should really ask, "what's up with the titles?" since "Porphyria's Lover" has had several different names since its first publication in 1836. Originally, it was published in a magazine as "Porphyria." It wasn't until 1863 that Browning started calling the poem "Porphyria's Lover" the title we still use today. The first title makes the poem about the victim, Porphyria. The speaker of the poem isn't even alluded to in the original title. The final title, "Porphyria's Lover," makes the poem about the speaker, but he's only identified through his relationship to Porphyria – he is never named. Both of these make sense, given the poem's interest in the transfer of agency, or power, from Porphyria to the speaker. Who gets to speak in the poem? Whose interpretation of events do we get to hear? Who gets to make decisions? These are the questions the poem seems to ask, and the partial shift in focus of the titles from Porphyria to the speaker begins to answer those questions.

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