by Robert Browning
Porphyria's yellow-blonde hair is one of the most memorable images in the poem, and the speaker refers to it frequently. Does the speaker have a hair fetish? Why does he choke her to death with her own hair? Why not use his hands? Or a pillow? Why is Browning making us think of alternative ways to kill Porphyria? That's really messed up.
- Line 13: After entering soundlessly from the storm, Porphyria takes off her wet coat and hat, and lets her "damp hair fall." It's no accident that Browning uses the word "fall": that word has some pretty negative connotations. For one, the word implies sin (Victorian moralists referred to women who had sex outside of marriage as "fallen women"). So maybe Porphyria's free, "fallen" hair symbolizes the irrevocable step she's taken in coming, alone, to see her lover?
- Line 18: This is the first time the speaker describes the color of Porphyria's hair: "yellow." Blondness is often associated with angelic purity and with children.
- Line 20: After pulling the speaker's head down against her bare shoulder, Porphyria spreads her "yellow hair" over him. It's the second time in three lines that her hair is described as "yellow." The speaker must really like that hair to be talking about it so much.
- Lines 38-41: The speaker takes all of Porphyria's hair, wraps it three times around her neck, and strangles her. If Porphyria's hair is somehow symbolic of her "fall" from sexual purity, does that mean that her "fall," or her sin, somehow kills her? Maybe, but there are lots of other possible interpretations, as well. Browning's a hard guy to pin down.