As in “My Last Duchess,” the speaker of Porphyria’s Lover” [text] murders his mistress and reflects upon his act while contemplating the image of her beautiful face. Like the Duke, who states that the painting of his Duchess “stands as if alive” (46-47), Porphyria’s lover suggests that the girl’s death was meant to immortalize her, as well as her feelings for him, rather than to “kill her.” The following passage, which begins after the speaker has finished strangling Porphyria, describes the kind of “immortal” presence that the girl seems to have.

As a shut bud that holds a bee,
      I warily oped her lids: again
      Laughed the blue eyes without a stain.
And I untightened next the tress
      About her neck; her cheek once more
Blushed bright beneath my burning kiss:
      I propped her head up as before,
      Only, this time my shoulder bore
Her head, which droops upon it still:
      The smiling rosy little head,
So glad it has its utmost will,
      That all it scorned at once is fled,
      And I, its love, am gained instead!
Porphyria’s love: she guessed not how
      Her darling one wish would be heard.
And thus we sit together now,
      And all night long we have not stirred,
      And yet God has not said a word!

Questions

1. Why is the speaker so “wary” when he opens Porphyria’s eye? What are the implications of her silent, yet “laughing” and "unstained" eyes?

2. Porphyria’s lover waits until the end of the poem to suggest that “God” might be watching. Does this mention of God mark a shift from self-absorption to self-consciousness, or is there another point in the poem which marks this transition?

3. How does the speaker’s self-consciousness enforce the moral ambiguity of the poem?

4. Both the Duke and the speaker here refer to the “smiles” of their women. How does Porphyria’s “smile” compare to that of the Duchess? How are they empowered and/or disempowered by their smiles?


Victorian Overview R. Browning Leading Questions

Modified 10 March 2003