Robert Browning is a respected writer whose poems are read and analysed across schools and other educational institutions the world over. This is mainly because his works have a special sort of connecting power to the reader and leave a lot to be questioned in terms of the themes and ideals he wanted to pass across through his poems. In ‘My Last Duchess” and ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ some of these themes come to light.
The Porphyria’s Lover touches on the theme of Sin. In the first place the speaker describes in details how he strangled his lover and it even seems like he is proud of his actions and is not remorseful to the least. According to the Victorian morals during those early days, talking openly about sexuality was termed immoral and it was almost a taboo to talk about anything sexual. It was therefore a sin for a woman to acknowledge that she even had any sexual desires whilst acting out on the desires that she had was actually bordering to being criminal. For Porphyria to wade through wind and rain to meet her lover was seriously risqué (line 30.)
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Madness is also touched on in the Porphyri’s Lover. When one starts reading the poem through the beginning it is clear that the feeling that one gets is that the person narrating the events is insane. The poem has a tight aa-bb-cc pattern of rhymes and is written in an uncomplicated way though each syllable is stressed thus it ends up creating a rhythmically smooth beat. Most of the words used through the poem are monosyllables thus the poems diction is quite straight forward. The events through the poem are described in a rather simple language too that is readable and easy to understand.
In "Porphyria's Lover," love is a theme that begins right from the inclusion of the word lover in the title of the poem. Love is a feature that reflects restraint and the quest for the freedom of the speaker in the poem and his lover Porphyria whose love for the speaker goes on to be described as some kind of ‘worship’ while in contrast his love for her is termed as violent and objectifying. The subject of love is eventually alienated from the two kinds of love that the two lovers show for each other. As much as the speaker ends up killing Porphylia, and the feeling that one gets after reading the poem that he deserves to go to prison for the way he treats her, it is undeniable that the two had been in love in their own kind of way.
It is clear that the writer of the poem kills Porphylia in order to make her feel like she was worth nothing to him and to reduce herself worth to the least imaginary levels. The love between the two is eventually turned into a fight for the control of power since she is the one who is seen to be in control at the beginning of the poem only for the speaker to try to maneuver his way into her mind to control her and reverse the power control in his favor. The speaker starts a journey to control her and eventually reduces her to a corpse by killing her in order to totally silence her from being her usual independent-thinking individual that she normally is.
In the poem The Last Duchess, there is the obvious theme of pride from the speaker which can be felt in every situation of the monologue. The Duke addresses the emissary of a nobleman who is inferior to him as the Count, your master since he intended to make the noble mans daughter his second wife. The duke evens goes ahead to say that he is in the process of acquiring an ‘object’ in the form of a second wife. There are dowry negotiations and as a result the Duke intends to collect money from the count though the actual amount is not discussed.
Robert Browning used many styles in these two poems to bring out the message in the poems. Some of these styles include the careful use of words and their consequent logical progression. An example is the speaker in ‘My Last Duchess’ who confesses to murdering his wife but in essence he never out rightly expresses his guilt. The language employed to show what the speaker said and how the speaker says it is carefully weighed in to bring out the desired results.
The use of metaphors is used widely throughout the poems. An example is where Porphyria shows her reluctance to be with her lover by implying that her standing in the society cannot possibly allow her to be seen with a man of a lower social class than hers. In essence, she uses this as an excuse not to be with him but he eventually kills her, thus putting her in the eventual social leveler, death and this makes her said social class irrelevant.
The use of a dramatic monologue format allows the writer of the poems to create a distance between the characters he creates and him. As much as a reader will find the characters in Robert Browning’s poems evil and wicked, one cannot possibly term Robert as being wicked rather; the people in his poems are the ones that are wicked and quite evil. These characters are carefully used to serve as personae to allow Robert Browning to explore the themes of evil and wickedness and tell stories with harrowing outcomes without coming out looking evil himself in the eyes of the readers. In ‘My Last Duchess’, after the responsibility of judging the characters in the poem is left to the readers, most find that the Duke as the repugnant person despite of the fact that he takes the reader through his art gallery. This is in contrast to the speaker who easily gets away with the murder of his wife simply due to the fact that neither the audience in the poem nor the writer of the poem takes any steps towards criticizing him despite of the murder that he committed.
The clever use of speech allows the writer to make some of the things in the poems to be easily known while at the same time keeping some things questionable throughout the poems. The Duke is searching for a new wife because his wife died of suspicious circumstances. After reading through the poem one cannot quite tell if he is the one who had killed her or not. He confesses to his servant that he did not like the way the Duchess used to smile all the time at practically anyone. He also says that he likes the way the artist captured the duchess’s smile since he was now in a position to control her smile by placing the portrait behind a curtain and only revealing it to the people he chose to. This may be seen in two ways, either by seeing him as having been too jealous of the way she smiled at people thus killing her, or as being protective by keeping the duchesses legacy in control by hiding her portrait and only letting the select few view it.
Most of Browning’s critics place their reservations on the styles and nature of his poetry. Most of them say that it takes a lot of reading of Browning’s poems to quite understand his style of writing poetry since it borders on the unconventional and more used methods. Browning eventually managed to win over many readers and poem enthusiasts by his clever use of timeless writing skills that have out lived the years and his employment of intellectual originality which has eventually catapulted his works to a very well recognizable level. Browning is also criticized for his love for the use of very dramatic monologues that are quite fascinating especially in this modern day because it ais a writing style that is not normally used today. This style also allows Browning to individualize each character in his poems thus makes it easy for a reader to identify and like or dislike one character in any of his poems. This also allowed him to develop a chosen character or a chosen situation into as dramatic as he wanted them to be thus adding more flavor and intensity to the overall piece of work. The reader is therefore left feeling like he was sitting in the company of someone he can recognize who was telling him a story rather than he was actually reading it.