‘Porphyria’s Lover’ by Robert Browning and ‘Too Bad’ written by Carol Ann Duffy Essay

Published: 2021-09-10 14:00:10
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Within the poems ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ by Robert Browning and ‘Too Bad’ by Carol Ann Duffy, are both written from a first person’s prospective. This allows us to compare and contrast the presentation of the diseased minds in both poems. The subject of dramatic monologue is also present. Both poems are written two hundred years ago. ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ was introduced in the 19th century. We can understand that around this period of time melodrama was popular. Themes of death, love and passion were highly admired. In ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ Browning reflected society in his poem. Society was divided by social status.
The ‘upper class’ social status is perceived via their wealth and social respect. The ‘middle class’ main characteristics are their professional standing in the fields, for example doctors and lawyers. The ‘working class’ are perceived through their laid back behaviour and the underclass who are seen as the outcasts in the whole social system. In contrast to Duffy, she reflects society today. In ‘Too Bad’ there is violence and gangs. There is a specific use guns. We can confirm that Duffy uses this type of weapon throughout the poem, as it is topical to what is happening in today’s society.
Violence and gun crimes have risen by 32%. Browning and Duffy both introduce their poems using the device of pathetic fallacy. This sets the tone and mood of the atmosphere. Browning conveys the turbulent state of the lover, by creating a vivid picture of the weather outside the cottage. We could suggest that in both poems the weather is reflective of the lover’s and the assassin’s state of mind. The weather is used to create an atmosphere and mood within the poems. This gives a more visual image. Within the poems they concern many ideas, but primarily it could be seen to present a ‘diseased mind’ in different forms.
In ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ we could suggest that it’s a crime of passion. Whereas, ‘Too Bad’ conveys that the assassin has planned and knows about the killing. This is murder! In ‘Too Bad’ we can depict that by using the image, “rain” suggests a dark, cold, depressing mood. Browning elaborates the build up of anger in the line, “the sullen wind was soon awake” within the personification the line intensifies his sulky, sad mood. However the words, “wind was soon awake” develops a notion of fury in his mind as he waits for her. The atmosphere portrays a stronger impression of the assassin’s mind and thoughts.
In contrast to Duffy, within her first stanza evokes a feel of coldness, a time of “winter” suggestive of when plants die. It also depicts a sense of the end of the year period. We could convey that it underlines possible death. However the specific use of, “blue wet streets” could be seen to describe a miserable atmosphere, unpleasantness and possibly a hostile environment of tension arising within the minds of the assassin. It also associates with the cold, calculating, and depressive personality of the assassin. Browning uses the language, “vex” this portrays a strong image of anger.
Duffy writes, “with our heads down” which depicts that they don’t want to be seen as on a mission to kill. We could suppose that the assassin has a diseased mind, as he knows he’s going to commit this murder, “we had a job to do”. This shows that the assassin is doing it for the money. However the phrase, “the barmaid caught my eye,” conveys he wants to impress his friends, which depicts that he could be isolated and unsure about himself. The mention of the barmaid in the poem, could suggest that the assassin is showing negligence as he’s going to commit murder, he should know to keep his identity low.
This shows he’s inexperienced. We could suggest that he could have had a dull life and now this, “job” is a form of excitement and indulgence. It could also be implied that it could inject the feeling of self-esteem. We find out that Porphyria is from a higher social status as she is described as having, “cloak and shawl, and soiled gloves”. From this we can deduce that in those days these items were highly expensive and only rich women could afford to possess these items. Browning states, “she shut the cold out and the storm” which evokes a sense of calm and tranquillity within the cottage.
The line clarifies and highlights warmth and passion arising. Although “when no voice replied” suggests the assassin wants to retain some pride, which links to ‘Too Bad’ as the murderer in the poem also wants to feel more self-esteem and to take more control. We can suggest that from comparing both poems, the assassin in ‘Too Bad’ has less control over his life, where as in ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ he has more control over his life but he is controlled by the one he deeply loves as he waits for her. Porphyria gains more control as she seduces him. She “made her smooth white shoulder bare”.
From this we can sustain that she uses her body to physically attract more attention so that she can take even more control over him. However in ‘Too Bad’ there is a constant repetition of the word, “we” which suggests that the assassin does not have as much control. Although it depicts that he wants to be part of a unit, this shows he’s insecure, lacking confidence. We can link this idea with ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ because of his low confidence, as he was not able to set any boundaries and therefore Porphyria gained more control and power over him.
Although he thinks that Porphyria is “too weak” this highlights her feebleness and not having enough resolve, as she’s not strong enough to leave him. We know that throughout both poems they have different motives. In Porphyria’s Lover we can depict that the assassin had a kind of obsession over Porphyria. He wanted only her and no one else to have focussed on her. This shows jealously, he wants her to “give herself to me forever”. We can suggest that this evokes a sense of a diseased mind, as there’s so much love for Porphyria, he cannot stand to see her with anyone but himself.
This sustains the idea this was a crime of passion. However in ‘Too Bad’ the motive is different. The assassin knows what he’s going to do during the evening. The assassin conveys a target, “we had a job to do”. We can clarify this as evidence of the assassin knowing what he’s going to do in a cold, calculating way. Browning sustains the mood of passion, as the assassin knows Porphyria wants him. Porphyria blanks everyone out, for a moment the assassin is the centre of her universe, thinking of nothing else but him. Browning elaborates the theme of control in the line, “Porphyria worshipped me” this conveys he’s incontrol.
Porphyria sees him more than a lover. We can see that Porphyria no longer sees him as a woodman. He is elevated in her thoughts. She did not relate to his poor, low social status background. We can clearly see that he could have been rejected for his financial status. He’s inferior socially to her but at this moment, they are both as equal, infact he could be seen to be higher. I feel that Porphyria could not leave her husband because a divorce in the 1800’s meant that she would loose her everything. This was because when you got married everything you own automatically becomes your husbands.
Porphyria did not want to loose her upper class life style for him. We can suggest that this relates to ‘Too Bad’ similarly as the assassin also feels like he’s higher, almost a hard man. Being a member of the group encourages him to feel part of a family, a unit. The “badge” could suggest this. However, it’s a metaphorical badge, symbolising identity. However from this we could also recognise that it shows that it’s not a permanent identity. You can take a badge off at any time. It can also symbolise that in the gang there is a group of members who will look out for each other.
This suggests that he’s got personal security and feels protected. On the other hand we could analyse this and confirm that it shows a lack of personal confidence and the fact that you need back up. It’s clear he needs to feel secure. Duffy highlights the importance of him being part as it gave him a purpose and focus. We can compare this to ‘Porphyria’s Lover’. This is because it denotes that it was so important to him, to appear to be more powerful than Porphyria and gain control over her, also gave him a focus on life, “happy and proud at last I knew Porphyria worshipped me”.
However I feel that, the main motive of the killing related to his strong feelings of his relationship as she “made my heart swell”. He knew that if he killed Porphyria it would guarantee that she died only loving him. This shows that he was afraid of their relationship ending. Although I can strongly say he is a sick man who’s mind is certainly diseased. How can you kill someone in cold blood especially, who you love and admire? I feel that it would be hard to bring your self to commit this crime. Although the assassin could have thought that it was the right thing to do.
He could have possibly felt that Porphyria wants to be with him but he knows she would not be able to, as she would not give up her possessions easily. From analysing the line, “made my heart swell and it still grew” suggests he felt that he had succeeded in controlling her. He feels loved, valued and important, which is similar to ‘Too Bad’ where he also feels he’s important, because he’s a member of a certain group. The phrase conveys the impression that all is calm, but he’s proud for the first time. He has got some power, however he has altermate control concerning life and death.
In contrast to ‘Too Bad’ Duffy extends the notion of a diseased mind as the assassin murders human beings for money. To have to kill, in order to be a hard man and which obviously boosts his ego is seriously involving a diseased mind. He has no personal motive. Also when Duffy writes, “Big Frank Conell hissing get a grip” conveys that the assassin is given orders, which clarifies the idea of himself being unsure about himself, as though he has no opinion or views of his own. Within the alliteration, “that moment she was mine. Mine fair” Browning uses a strong use of repetition.
This suggests that controlling and owning her is vital to him. It intensifies how she perceived him as a god, which is almost angelic. However in the line, “while I debated what to do,” Browning suggests no sign of craziness, as he provaricates over living and dying. He spends time deliberating. From this we can see that he knows the difference between right and wrong. Although the line, “I found a thing to do” states clearly his diseased mind. We can suggest this because, he conveys the action as being almost unimportant, as he uses a casual tone. It’s almost as though he’s coming in and out of madness.
His emotions are complicated which shows he cannot be sure about himself. In contrast to ‘Too Bad’, where “knocking back the brandy” depicts an act of bravado. It shows that he’s having a drink to calm his nerves. From this we could suggest that he almost knows that he’s going to do wrong. On the other hand he does not stop the situation because he knows he will earn a certain amount of money. This could be the main motive to kill. We could suggest that the assassin may feel that this is the only way he can succeed in making money to earn a living. He has no other opportunities.
Although if we look at it from another point of view, we can see that the assassin does not have enough intelligence for him to earn a decent living. He uses the gang he’s in to kill, in order to feel some sense of security and earn money. This shows that he does not think about the victim’s involved, almost as though he has no feelings for them. However he could also think that it’s symbolic of being a hard man and it raises his self-percepta. However moving on to the murder it self, we can make certain comparisons. In ‘Too Bad’ he uses, “a small gun”. This evokes a sense of hard, solid and heaviness.
It seems to be very clinical, kind of cold and metallic. In comparison to ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ he uses, “all her hair”. The Lover uses a weapon, which he values, yet he kills her with it. He takes her life away with something he admires. We can see that in both poems the poets have used different weapons to reflect and symbolise the emotions of both killers. From this I can deduce clarify that ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ presents a more diseased mind. This is because, killing someone you love and cherish just because you don’t feel that you have enough control is thoughtless.
It could also imply a sign of madness, as though jealously has taken over! The killing in ‘Too Bad’ takes place, “along a filthy alley to the other pub”. Duffy chooses the word “filthy” precisely. It could imply that the physical method of killing was sordid and distasteful. However it also portrays a cold, calculating murder, it has no motive other than money. Duffy condemns the murder as appalling and highlights the fact that the society allows it. Duffy moves on to convey how the assassin thought it was, “simple”. This depicts that the killing was quick and easy.
This evokes a lack of emotion within the assassin’s mind. He’s trying to cut out his feelings and thoughts. In contrast to ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ he tries to make himself feel better. He lies to himself as he goes into denial, “I am quite sure she felt no pain”. In both poems the victim’s have are not prepared. We know this as in ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ when he smoothly uses the, “long yellow string I wound three times her little throat”, this shows that whilst he was doing this Porphyria felt he was physically playing with her and therefore there was no sense of fear and she did not expect to be, “strangled”.
She would have felt security and no sense of alarm. However in contrast to ‘Too Bad’ the victim was, “putting on his coat, ready for home”. In ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ the line, “I warily opened her lids again” states that eyes mirror feelings. He’s trying to convince himself, “she felt no pain”. The line, “laughed the blue eyes without a stain” conveys that he is not being honest, it’s quieter, less violent a more sensual death. As he unwrapped her hair and starts to put colour back into her cheeks, “her cheek once more blushed bright beneath my burning kiss”. This conveys that he is not mentally in touch with himself.
This definitely presents a diseased mind. We can suppose this because he expresses his emotions physically to a dead body, which is turning cold, pale and almost stiff. Also we get a stronger impression of a diseased mind in the line, “I propped her head up, this time my shoulder bore her head”. From this we can understand that he’s thinking that now he has complete control over her and this happens only when she is dead! We can see this as before, “she put my arm about her waist” conveys how Porphyria had control over him but now the control was back with him.
We could suggest that it presents role reversal. After the murder both poems show different attitudes of the main protagonists. In ‘Too Bad’ it is evident that the assassin will be in, “a safe house”, where he will be looked after and food and drink will also be given. He walks away singing, “hang down your head and cry”. We can suppose that this song means that he knows he’s done wrong but he needs to forget what has happened and move on. We can suggest that it seems as though the method of killing is going to continue which shows the hardness of the killer.
In comparison to ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ we see a different attitude. The phrase, “Porphyria’s Love” conveys that the dropping of the, “r” suggests that Porphyria died loving only one person. She wanted him exclusively, blanking out everyone else. Although the Lover tries to justify himself in the line, “her darling one wish would be heard”. This shows us how diseased his mind is, because he feels that he has given her what she wanted. However the notion of diseased mind develops in the line, “and thus we sit together now”. We can suppose that he spends the night sitting with a corpse, rigid, cold dead body!
This could be reflective to the kind of person he is. Also Browning reinforces the idea of diseased mind, “yet God has not said a word”. From this we can perceive that he does not feel guilty after committing the murder. He tries to justify it. Why has God not reacted to the murder? He feels that if he had done wrong then God would have shown anger and displeasure in some way. He tries to convey that God is on his side and the fact that God agrees with him! He is severely diseased. In conclusion, I feel that in Browning’s ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ presents a more diseased mind than ‘Too Bad’.
In ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ the speaker gives his justifications for killing his lover. However he does not feel guilty after committing the murder. He shows a state of denial. He cannot face what he has done, therefore he argues with his moral conscious. In my opinion I believe that he winds her hair around her neck three times, which is a number that symbolically represents evil. I feel that ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ is severely depressed. He feels that the moment they made love will never be better than it is at this moment and through this he justifies killing Porphyria.
It could be seen that he kills her to capture this moment. However I find this poem to be extremely disturbing. ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ or should we call him her killer, is a demented man with severe issues to deal with. I can suppose that when he mentions, “God” I don’t feel that he thinks he’s better than God. He isn’t even searching for a specific reason. I doubt that he even believes in God. I think this because sometimes people who are lonely and living in poor conditions always seem to have a negative opinion about God.
I think that he is trying to justify what he has done. If he can convince himself that God didn’t become angered by his actions, then he can come to a conclusion that what he has done is acceptable. ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ is a strange poem about an insane individual. He does not feel sorry for what he has done and actually even feels that, the outcome is what Porphyria would have desired. We can state that the killer has an obvious sickness. The word ‘Porphyria’ refers to a diseased mind and we should not over look the fact that she is his disease!
Her killed her because he was obsessed and lonely. He wanted control over her that he didn’t have at the beginning of the poem. This is insane itself! To kill someone you love and admire greatly because you want control over them implies serious mental problems! He wanted her forever, it was the love that he thought he felt from her at that specific moment to cherish. There is no real evidence they had a solid, serious relationship. The whole poem is told from his point of view and we don’t actually see what she thinks.

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