Porpheria's Lover vs. My Last Duchess
by Daniel Vila
The similarities between Robert Browning's two poems, My Last Duchess and Porphyria's Lover, are uncanny, as they can be compared in theme, plot, style, language, perspective and various other ways. The two poems make the same statement concerning men and love and men and their relationship with women. In both poems, the male narrator looks like a jelous, overbearing tyrant, and the woman a passive victim of circumstance. Neither poem makes men look very good.
The most obvious differences one would notice initially are the meter and the rhyme scheme. My Last Duchess is written in iambic pentameter and has an aa bb cc... rhyme scheme. Porphyria's Lover is penned in iambic tetrameter and has an ababb cdcdd... rhyme scheme. One thing that remains the same for both of the poems is Browning's lack of variation, as he keeps the same rhyme scheme and meter throughout both of the poems, never once varying.
One interesting fact concerning both of the poems is that they are both written about women who have been murdered by their male companions, both being written from the perspective of the homicidal male. In My Last Duchess, the Duke of Ferrara, an Italian nobleman, is the narrator. As he is taking an agent who represents the father of the woman he hopes to marry through his castle, he stops on a painting of his wife who had died shortly beforehand. He talks about how he did not enjoy the manner in which she constantly thanked men, an act which he thought was insulting. He found insult in the fact that he thought she was ranking his nine-hundred-year-old name with anybody's gift. He didn't like the way she smiled at other men in just the same manner that she smiled at him. He wished for it to stop, and so it did, and her smiling stopped altogether. From this fact, we can surmise that he had her knocked off. In Porphyria's Lover, similar circumstances are apparent. In the beginning of the poem, the narrator seems weary as to whether or not Porphyria actualy loves him or not, but soon when she arrives, he finds out that she "worships him." She gets closer, wrapping her hair about his face. When the narrator finally finds out that she loves him, he becomes desirous to seize this moment for himself forever, thus he kills her with her own long blonde locks. The reasons may be somewhat different, but in the end the plots overlap, as both women are killed by their narrating companions.
However, the two poems overlap most in their theme, which would be "man's desire for complete possession and ownership of women." This is extremely evident in both poems. In Porpheria's Lover it couldn't be clearer. His desire for possession of his lover was the overbearing reason for his murder of her. He wants to sieze the moment of her love and worship of him for himself. He wants to possess her very being. If he actually loved her in more than a superficial way, he would have cared about her feelings as well, and wanted her to partake in that moment of lovey-doveyness, or at least he would have wanted her to go on living. But, no, it is clear that he views her as belonging to him exclusively. He wants to possess her completely, as if she were a piece of his own personal property, and that is the reason he kills her at such a tender moment in their relationship. In My Last Duchess, the narrator doesn't kill the duchess in order to possess her, but rather because she annoys him with her actions. However, he feels he can kill her because she's a possession. We can see that he views her only as a possession with the fact that, when he is taking the agent around his house, when he is finished talking about the painting of his dead wife, he goes straight on to a bronze casting of Neptune, as if they are equal in value. With this action, he indirectly equates the value of his wife with the value of a little statue. His possessiveness also becomes aparent in his overbearing jelousy. He feels extremely jelous because his wife seems to be content with other men in the same manner that she is content with him. We, the readers, are not told if this is simply a figment of his imagination or if it is actually true. Knowing the narrator, it is most likely a figment of his imagination. But figment or not, it sets him raging, and her actions are taken by him as insults. The result: her death with the only remnant of her existence being a painting of her, which the narrator can more easily possess than an actual human embodiement.
Browning's language usage is quite similar for both of the poems, as he uses quite plain language, sprinkled with a few SAT words. He usually opts for words that set a calm tone, and sound nice rather than sharp language that licks your spine. He even uses this calm wording when Porphyria dies at the hands of her lover. Browning does not use very many visible literary techniques such as assonance, onomatopoeia, consonance, or alliteration.
Overall, the two poems make a statement concerning men's selfishness and superficiality when it comes to love and female companionship. It also depicts how much men valued women at the time, which obviously wasn't much since both of the narrators murdered their female companions on a whim. The only evident differences in the two poems are the meter, the rhyme scheme, and the exact reason for the murder of the female in each poem (although, the more abstract reasons for each murder are quite a bit more similar). They are written from the same perspectives (the homicidal male in the relationship), feature similar plots (female dies at hands of male due to male's jelousy and selfishness), have the exact same theme (man's desire for complete possession and ownership of women), and use the same calm language.