How does Browning use language to depict the link between love and death in Porphyria’s Lover and My Last Duchess?
Poetry is often used as a stimulus for thought, and a tool for exploring difficult situations and feelings. Browning uses his dramatic monologues to look at juxtaposed ideas, their links, and the resultant feelings. This exploration is demonstrated in his two poems Porphyria’s Lover and My Last Duchess. Porphyria’s Lover is told by a man who kills his lover by strangling her in order to keep her love constant and preserved. My Last Duchess is told by a Duke, who talks about his last wife, and his commands for the murder of her. The poems are very different in their atmospheres, but they both are contemplations on the links between control and love.In Porphyria’s Lover, the story is that of a love-frenzied passion- as the poetic voice wraps her hair around her throat and proceeds to strangle her with it. All through the poem, the poetic voice justifies the murder in various ways, but the main justification he uses is that her death was the only way to totally control and ensure her love for him. In My Last Duchess the poetic voice is that of a Duke- he describes the painting of his wife, who recently died. He then goes on to tell the audience that he ordered for her death, and had the painting painted to preserve her memory. This is a very narrative introduction –could you condense this into about five sentences? You should try to outline broadly Browning’s intentions and the idea of the poems, as linked to the title as succinctly as possible.
In Porphyria’s Lover, there is a great sense of the poetic voice having a craving for absolute control over Porphyria and her feelings for him. He says things like; ‘she, too weak, for all her struggling heart’s endeavour’ where he is commenting on her inability to love him fully. He thinks of her a fragile, and all the passion trapped in her body that she fails to express. This frustration makes it seem like he feels that he is the only one able to truly free her and the love ‘struggling’ within. The use of the word ‘struggling’ makes it sound like he thinks of her love for him as a pathetic and wretched thing, which finds difficulty in merely being. It is having difficulty showing itself, even though he describes her as ‘too weak’. Perhaps this is Browning expressing frustration involving the inability of women that was so stereotypical of the time- to the extent where they are even unable to convey their emotions effectively. In My Last Duchess he also expresses a wish to be able to control his lover. In the line ‘I chose\never to stoop.’ Here he is talking about his desire to never give in to his wife’s behaviour. He chooses ‘never to stoop’ and therefore never come to a compromise that she set up. ‘Stoop’ could also be thought of as being humbled by something, and could imply giving in to someone, and the proud Duke could never succumb to his wife. Browning’s choice of language is often misogynistic and disparaging of women in this sense. Simillarly, this disconnection between the line ‘I chose’ and ‘never to stoop’ makes it very clear that it was his decision- a display of the might of his will, and complete control- influenced by no one.
In both of the poems, this need to control their lover’s results in cold blooded murders. For example, ‘And I, its love, am gained instead!’. Here, he calls out in an exclamation of delight. He now possesses her, and has power and control over where and to whom her love goes out to. Momentarily, in the four lines around this one, he even refers to Porphyria’s corpse as an ‘it’- this pronoun makes her seem like an object he can manipulate and control When he describes all the interaction between Porphyria and him, there is a change before and after her murder. For example, earlier on in the poem, when she comes in, she ‘put my arm about her waist’ and ‘made her smooth white shoulder bare’. Here Poprphyria