Will's Coffee House

John Dryden, Dramatist, Critic, Poet Laureate, and my ancestor, frequented a coffee house called Will's almost daily, where he would hold forth on sundry subjects with great wit and aplomb. Same deal here, only without the wit or aplomb.

Location: Large Midwestern City, Midwestern State, United States

I am a stranger in a sane land...

Friday, February 24, 2006

Friday Poem

Not a pretty poem--ugly, scary, loving tenderness turned into its most dreadful perversion--Browning's fascination with the monstrous and the sordid makes Poe look like Beatrix Potter. But his ability to find humanity in evil makes him one of the bravest of poets. And the last line always sends chills up my spine--one thinks of the silence that greets genocide and sexual slavery and pedophile priests. Fearlessly brilliant, Browning. But not for the faint of heart. Only a very good man could write such a poem; only a very good man could fathom evil so completely and see it as helpless madness, and respond with horrified sympathy. Which perhaps makes him the oddest kind of optimist. Anyway, enjoy, but not too much:

Porphyria’s Lover
by Robert Browning

The rain set early in tonight,
The sullen wind was soon awake,
It tore the elm-tops down for spite,
And did its worst to vex the lake:
I listened with heart fit to break.
When glided in Porphyria; straight
She shut the cold out and the storm,
And kneeled and made the cheerless grate
Blaze up, and all the cottage warm;
Which done, she rose, and from her form
Withdrew the dripping cloak and shawl,
And laid her soiled gloves by, untied
Her hat and let the damp hair fall,
And, last, she sat down by my side
And called me. When no voice replied,
She put my arm about her waist,
And made her smooth white shoulder bare,
And all her yellow hair displaced,
And, stooping, made my cheek lie there,
And spread, o’er all, her yellow hair,
Murmuring how she loved me—she
Too weak, for all her heart’s endeavor,
To set its struggling passion free
From pride, and vainer ties dissever,
And give herself to me forever.
But passion sometimes would prevail,
Nor could tonight’s gay feast restrain
A sudden thought of one so pale
For love of her, and all in vain:
So, she was come through wind and rain.
Be sure I looked up at her eyes
Happy and proud; at last I knew
Porphyria worshiped me: surprise
Made my heart swell, and still it grew
While I debated what to do.
That moment she was mine, mine, fair,
Perfectly pure and good: I found
A thing to do, and all her hair
In one long yellow string I wound
Three times her little throat around,
And strangled her. No pain felt she;
I am quite sure she felt no pain.
As a shut bud that holds a bee,
I warily oped her lids: again
Laughed the blue eyes without a stain.
And I untightened next the tress
About her neck; her cheek once more
Blushed bright beneath my burning kiss:
I propped her head up as before
Only, this time my shoulder bore
Her head, which droops upon it still:
The smiling rosy little head,
So glad it has its utmost will,
That all it scorned at once is fled,
And I, its love, am gained instead!
Porphyria’s love: she guessed not how
Her darling one wish would be heard.
And thus we sit together now,
And all night long we have not stirred,
And yet God has not said a word!


Blogger phd me said...

Oh, I love this poem! When I taught this in high school, I always assigned it for in-class reading because I loved to hear the collective gasp when they got to "three times her little throat around, and strangled her." The textbook actually did a great set up for it, too: print of Arthur Hughes' April Love on the left page, poem on the right, with the page turn after "that moment she was mine, mine, fair." Faulkner's A Rose for Emily was another one I loved to teach this way.

2:28 PM  

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