Porphyria’s Lover by Robert Browning was written in 1836. It is a well-known poem that is told as a dramatic monologue, by a man that we can only assume is “Porphyria’s Lover”. The poem is certainly suspenseful right up until we hear he has, to our surprise, killed her and in a very dramatic, extreme and heartless way. It is a romantic poem about a man and a woman that were forced to keep their relationship a secret because they were from different backgrounds and classes. Although written 150 years after Porphyria’s Lover, Human Interest by Carol Ann Duffy contains similarities to the poem. Human Interest, like Porphyria’s Lover, is about a man who kills the woman he loved because of jealousy. Human Interest is much more informal and this helps to create a picture of who is telling the story and what sort of man he is. It is very colloquial and contains words that could be considered taboo, however they work effectively in the poem because they help us to understand the character telling the poem. Human Interest is a sonnet that adds to that effect of a love poem, however it is about murder and deceit, which could be seen as very unromantic.
The poems both talk about the emotions of love and jealousy and how they affect people’s actions. It seems that in both poems, the narrator has a psychopathic persona and always suspects the worst of his lover. In Human Interest the man telling the story assumes that because his girlfriend has received a gift from another man they must be having an affair. However it is likely that she could have received it for completing a difficult task at her work. In Porphyria’s Lover we can see this characteristic in the way that he implies that she has no true love for him, yet the first thing she does before taking off her wet clothes is to care for his wellbeing by lighting a fire and shutting the doors. It could also be argued that because the poem is a sonnet, we automatically assume that it is a poem of love. This could be a subtle hint from the author that the narrator did have some love for Porphyria.
In my opinion, it seems that both authors could be trying to suggest something about how women are portrayed in society and by other people. In both poems we assume that the woman is the victim because of the way they are brutally murdered and the way the men describe them; however in Porphyria’s Lover it seems that Porphyria could have been leading the narrator astray. In Human Interest it also seems that the woman may have been cheating and have broken this man’s heart, yet the narrator seems to realise that the women may not have cheated on him or purposely break his heart. We see this when he says ‘My baby’. She wasn’t a tart / or nothing.’ The full stop after ‘my baby’ and the use of caesura in this phrase shows how the narrator could have been reminiscing or having flashbacks and realising that she may not have been unfaithful after all. The effect of the poet’s choice to make him a murderer could be interpreted as hidden dramatic irony, the man who killed his girlfriend says he “wouldn’t harm a fly” and so he may be unable to understand why he actually did this.
Although sharing many similarities, the two poems are very different in their own right. The background and personality of the two writers help to make them individual and personal to them. Porphyria’s Lover was written in 1836 when sexual morality was very different to modern times. This could explain the narrator’s paranoia. However Human Interest was written in modern times where the thought of someone having an affair is more commonly heard of, which almost gives an excuse to the narrator for being so obsessed with his wife and co workers close relationship. Both poems contain women that were brutally murdered. However the choice of actions and the behaviour of the women imply they may not have been as innocent as we may have first believed. Also the remorse that is shown by the narrator of Human interest shows that he was apologetic and regretting the whole incident as opposed to Porphyria’s Lover. Porphyria’s Lover could also be described as having a much more macabre feel to the poem, with Porphria’s death narrated in much more detail than Human Interest and it is so gruesome because of the way he killed her with a string of her own hair.
Carol Ann Duffy, the writer of Human Interest, is a feminist whose poems explore what it is to be a woman. She often does this through dramatic monologues or by using different personas for each poem she writes. In Human Interest the irony is that of the narrator, who spends the majority of the poem telling us how she lied to him and committed adultery. However towards the end of the poem he forgives her and feels immense regret for what he has done. This is different to Porphyria’s Lover; the narrator defends his decision to murder her in the way he describes what he has done. He calls her ‘perfectly pure and good’ right before he strangles her, implying that he needed to kill her in order to preserve her innocence. The line in the poem ‘Her darling one wish would be heard’ makes us wonder if this was perhaps an act of euthanasia, and that “Porphyria’s Lover” was only guilty of helping his beloved find peace and rest at last. Particularly as he mentions ‘And yet God has not said a word!’ as though he is expecting God to send praise to him for what he has done. And this shows the contrast between the two characters and possibly the two authors.
Overall I would say that I prefer Porphyria’s Lover out of the two because I liked the use of language skills and other technical abilities that helped make it so effective in creating an atmosphere. I would not say that I dislike Human Interest, however I found that it was too informal; yet the informality of the poem was suited to its style. I also felt that it lacked detail and that the short sentences didn’t always fit what the character was trying to portray. Porphyria’s Lover was longer, yet it had more sophistication and class, the lines flowed and the original idea was more creative.