Examination Of Two Poems Role Of Men A Women English Literature Essay

Published: Last Edited:

This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers.

The Victorian era started when Queen Victoria came to the Throne in 1837 and ended in 1901. Briton was a power nation at the time due to its vast empire so there was an air of confidence about, pride and optimism. This was the time of the industrial revolution so people worked hard, creature comforts came to be and due to the increase in high society's wealth, money was being put in public buildings. But Victorian times wasn't all good, there was a huge under class of desperately poor people , begging, prostitution, drunkenness and child exploitation were common along with 'hypocrisy'.

Death was a common in the Victorian era due to poor conditions and infant mortality. So death was important; the rich would have big funerals there would be grave diggings, autopsies. Due to its importance death became fascinating for writes giving birth to stories such as Frankenstein and Dracula. The reading of death and that of murder were of fascination to the Victorian reader.

The poem I am going to study first is Porphyria's lover by Robert Browning. Browning was born in the 1830s and died in the 1890s. Browning was a successful poet living a fulfilled life but had a scandalous life often reflecting in his poems such as Porphyria's lover.

"Porphyria's Lover" is a poem reflecting a scandalous love life leading to death. Victorian poets often looked upon the themes of love and death which is exactly what Browning does in this poem.

The dramatic monologue is set in a gloomy setting reminiscent of the death to come. "The sullen wind was soon awake" the poem takes a twist when Porphyria walks in and turns a gloomy mood into a cheerful one; only to leave her lover with bad news "made my heart swell". Also they are in a cottage essentially in the middle of nowhere adding to the scandalous life of Porphyria and her lover "all the cottage warm".

Porphyria thinks that her lover would understand but this wasn't the case. "That moment she was mine". He decides to strangle Porphyria as it is the only way to keep her otherwise she is lost because it is assumed she has been engaged as she has just come from a 'gay feast'. "Three times her little throat around, and strangled her" The narrator lets go of Porphyria and it seems as if she comes back to life once more. "Her cheeks once more blushed bright". Porphyria runs out of life and rests on her lover 2her head which drops upon it still". The narrator ends by feeling some divine power "and yet God has not said a word", because god has not punished him.

The lover's thoughts have a big change from the start of the monologue, we see the dramatic monologue from the from the speakers point of view. At the start Porphyria walks in this livens up the mood "all the cottage warm". At this point the speakers mind set is relieved that Porphyria has come to see him. But he speakers mind takes a turn when he is stunned when Porphyria tells him the ill news. Browning decides to show us what the speaker is thinking and it's shown that he is debating of what to do to Porphyria "I found a thing to do". Having this frame of mind due to his obsessive love for Porphyria turns him from a lover into a killer "and strangled her". It could be that the speaker just can't get over his loss or he is so obsessed he wants to keep her even if it means killing her "and thus we sit together now". The speaker ends with a divine feeling because God does

not punish him "yet God has not said a word" this shows that the speaker doesn't even fear God because of his love and in Victorian times defying God was unheard of going against the values of the time.

The narrator in 'Porphyria's Lover' can be described as insane with jealousy. The passage states: 

"That moment she was mine, mine, fair,

Perfectly pure and good "

 This quotation has the repetition of the word' mine', which implies that he regarded Porphyria as a possession and controlled her like a toy. The second line of my quotation means that he knew that she only loved him and the love for him was pure and he wanted it to stay this way, and the only way to do this was to murder her knowing that she loved him only and no one else. The word pure means she only loved him and no one else.

 There also is an implied listener in this poem, as we do not know if he is thinking, or maybe writing an account in his diary. It is also becoming evident that the narrator has a huge ego and classifies himself as God.

 "Porphyria worshipped me;"

 As the narrator describes her death, he uses a literary effect, which creates an impact on the reader/listener.

 "Three times her little throat around,

And strangled her".

 The second line in the above quotation is a caesura as there is a full stop in a middle of a line. The effect this has is that the full stop is abrupt and implies the end of her life. There is also the change of word order in the first line of the quotation. Browning could have easily said 'Around her little throat three times'. However he choice of word order also creates an effect. This is that it puts the reader/listener in suspense by keeping the 'throat' at the end of the line. If it were at the start of the line, the reader/listener would easily realise what would happen.

He thinks that he is God by saying that Porphyria worshipped him and because of this, he thinks that he can murder her. Another point is that he looks to have no friends and he is surprised that she worshipped him. He cannot believe this and wants to have this feeling to live forever so he murders her as I have explained above. The monologue is told in facts. He acts as though murdering someone is an 'everyday' thing. He speaks as though he has not committed a crime. After the murder he makes himself believe that she felt no pain.

 "No pain felt she;

I am quite sure she felt no pain".

 The repetitions of 'no pain felt she' shows that he is making himself believe that she felt no pain. He is assuring himself that he has done the right thing not necessarily for Porphyria but definitely for himself so that he can keep the feeling forever. This suggests that he is selfish and obviously a murderer. This is also another example of syntax. Browning wrote a sentence in different word order and then in different order. If he had kept the syntax the same in both sentences, he would not have created an impact on the reader as well. The mysterious speaker feels no shame or guilt regarding his wicked and selfish conduct. He boasts that even God did not speak a word against him. Robert Browning reveals rare insights and an unusual interpretation concerning the concept of love. His jealousy and obsession for Porphyria, compels him to act upon his depraved thoughts that will secure her total love and devotion.

 We are unaware of the reason of Porphyria's death but near to the start of the poem, it states:

 "And laid her soiled gloves by".

 The word 'soiled' implies dirt and suggests that not all is perfect. We are then given an indication as to what the reason was.


Too weak, for all her heart's endeavour,

To set its struggling passion free"

She is described to be proud and there is a negative point that she cannot stop doing. However, the narrator is just paranoid, as I cannot understand what this bad habit is. It is all in his mind and just proves that he is a psychopath.

 Browning has used a lot of literary effects and I have explained them below:

 "The sullen wind was soon awake"

 This personification on line two shows that the wind has started to blow and begin its destruction. The wind can be reflected as the narrator's mind as the wind is angry and so is the narrator. As the weather worsened outside, so did the mood of the narrator, which may have been purposely connected by Robert Browning.

 At the end of line thirty-three, 'surprise' is left at the end of the line. This shows that the narrator was surprised that she loved him as he is described to live alone and not have many friends.

 An effective use of alliteration is on line forty-eight.

 "Blushed bright beneath my burning kiss".

The repetition of the word 'b' in this alliteration suggests the sound of 'b' has a harsh sound. When you say 'b', you have to breathe out which means that he is breathing out his love to Porphyria in the form of a kiss.

The narrator of 'Cousin Kate' presents her feelings and emotions precisely and expressively as the poem is written from first person perspective.

It starts with "I was a cottage maiden", conjuring up an idea of banishment or neglect by the use of the past-tense. A cottage-maiden does not suddenly stop being a cottage maiden; but because of the 19th century social superstitions, women having pre-marital sex were seen by the eyes of society as being unclean, 'an unclean thing'.

She provides the name of her 'betrayer', her cousin Kate, which makes us think that she is trying to almost shame her. It is ironic, thus, that she has named the poem by Kate's name because one would only name a literary piece by someone else's name as sign of tribute.

 Women, generally, during early 19th century Britain, did not have the right to acquire quality jobs. Therefore the only approach that a cottage-maiden could take for a better life was by marrying a rich man, like the Lord. Thus Kate can be blamed for not helping her cousin; but all the blame cannot be shifted on her.

There are two types of love presented in 'Cousin Kate': one which is inner thus genuine; and the other which is superficial or advantageous.

The narrator starts from the first stanza by emphasising her naivety, 'Not mindful I was fair' to forward the idea that the maiden lived a good life, 'fair', where she didn't have to worry much, 'not mindful' . Readers, reading the poem for the first time, note the irony as she questions her happiness with a lord, when she was a mere cottage maiden:

"Why did a great lord find me out,

And praise my flaxen hair?

Why did a great lord find me out,

To fill my heart with care?"

 Flax is a beautiful naturally occurring material, therefore Rossetti is trying to emphasise the cottage-maiden's natural beauty. The way in which the lord firstly praises her attractive physical attributes foreshadows his superficial, rather than inner, attraction towards her.

 The use of foreshadowing is vital as the poem progresses to further reinforce the general outer attraction that these men had. Their 'love' can be substituted or upgraded when a higher quality is found, '... (Cousin Kate) You grew more fair than I'. Hence this quote reinforces the idea of a woman being substituted by another when the male had found someone else more physically attractive.

 This idea is forwarded in, 'He changed me like a glove.' 'Changed' emphasises her disposability; the simile emphasises how she can be changed, without thought or remorse. This further highlights the social context of the early 19th century era as gloves were in fashion at the time. Especially to rich land owners, such as the Lord, who generally owned countless pairs. And pairs which did not satisfy the Lord's sense of fashion were just merely thrown away, like the narrator, after her cousin was founded.

 Another similar simile is, "He wore me like a silken knot". Silk is a soft material, which can show the 'soft-hearted' approach of the Lord towards the narrator. However, the way in which the narrator describes herself being in a 'knot' emphasises the difficulty of her situation, as she tries to un-tie herself from the emotional scars which were left with her.  

  Rossetti continuously covers the theme of superficiality. Because Kate was more attractive than the cottage-maiden, they were married, "He bound you with his ring". 'Bound' has two meanings in this situation: One can mean that their marriage was quickly conducted, as in a bond, hence it was rushed; or can alternatively emphasise that they were married, as 'bound' is a legal term.

 The 'ring' can symbolise the superficiality of the Lord, as it is, again, like 'flaxen hair', the first thing mentioned; it is an object which can be merely bought thus contradicting of the emotional attraction which marriage is meant to bring. This idea is further reinforced by the status of a lord; a mere ring would not financially affect him.

 Readers get the idea that Kate is almost being used as a dormant, pretty object used to give an impression. This status of Kate is show when the narrator says, "You sit in gold and sing". 'Sit in gold' can, if thought about, paint an image of an Egyptian queen, who does nothing but tries to impress people with her vocals, or merely to act as a still painting for visitors. This quote can also link to show how wealth can turn one into being egotistical, because for Kate to be singing whilst her cousin in contrast is suffering, "Even so I sit and howl in dust," can be striking to the reader. Onomatopoeia is used in 'howl' to emphasise the social equivalence of a 'dog', which also howls, to a woman who had pre-marital sex. The way she 'howls' can be interpreted to show her cynicism towards human emotion, she is trying to show that calling out for an animal would at-least guarantee a response and empathy.

 When a dog howls - no one cares; some might even get aggressive trying to hush the dog. This is an effective comparison to show how her mourns will be treated by society. Howling in 'dust' reinforces the way she is cut off from society; she is burying her head beneath the dust to emphasise her isolation, she does not need to use her sight or hearing, because no-one will be there.

Rossetti uses an extended metaphor in her poem to represent the displacement of her innocence, "Who might have been a dove". 'Dove' is a term used to describe a thing to being innocent, gentle, pure and tender. Therefore using the symbolism of the dove, the narrator is reminiscing over her innocence.

 To be a 'dove' one has to be pure, and in 'Cousin Kate', the narrator questions Kate: 'Now which of us has tenderer heart?' In contrast to the her tone in the beginning, the narrator no longer questions her conscience but stably and sternly forwards the question to Kate. The question posed is very remarkable and can be interpreted morally. Imagery of the heart is evident here again; as the narrator is describing her emotion. The moral issue which the narrator is trying to emphasise is how one's heart, in-spite of being financially fulfilled, can turn insensitive to the world around it, discussed earlier in 'Even so I sit and howl in dust.'  

 The narrator demonstrates how untrue Kate's love is by calling it "writ in sand". 'Writ', like 'bound', is the way in which something is legally signed under early English law. It can also mean to write on something. Therefore Kate's love is metaphorically expressed by being written in sand, emphasising how worthless their love is; as it can be cancelled by being merely walked on or washed away. Therefore, if both are combined, Rossetti is trying to show how their love might be legally signed for, but however is untrue. Sand particles are also tiny, almost inexistent further emphasising how flawed their love was.

In the eyes of the narrator, once Kate has married the Lord, she is no longer pure, "Because you were so good and pure". She perceives the word 'pure' in a different way than that of society. "You were" emphasises that she is no longer pure; hence it is in the past-tense. The narrator's idea of being 'pure' is having a heart that is pure - and Kate's 'betrayal' and non-existent help to her, when she needed it the most, is enough to seize away her purity.

The use of past-tense further elaborates to show how the narrator's qualities have now surpassed that of Kate's, "You had the stronger wing". Kate initially had an advantage over the cottage-maiden because she was beautiful. Now readers, by the end of the poem, notice the purposeful use of the past-tense, now the narrator has the 'stronger wing' as she gave birth to the Lord's baby:

 "My fair-haired son, my shame, my pride,

Cling closer, closer yet:

Your father would give lands for one

To wear his coronet".

 'My' is mentioned three times in one line to emphasise her pride. The rhythmic pattern when read sounds harsh, therefore it seems like the cottage-maiden is directly taunting Kate. There are eight syllables in three lines from 'My fair-haired...' to 'To wear his coronet,' with most words being monosyllabic to put an emphasis on the punchy, 'telling off' effect. "My shame, my pride" are oxymoronic terms; the narrator is ashamed because her baby is the result of pre-marital sex; at the same time, she is 'proud' that life has not forsaken her as she has won the right-weapon, the Lord's son. She can now avenge herself from Kate. The way she says 'cling closer' means to adhere closely, meaning that, even if the lord does not accept the cottage-maiden as a wife; he will have to take his son.

The narrator's inevitability of winning over Kate is emphasised by the metaphor "To wear his coronet." It emphasises that, if the Lord was to die, his son will inherit every object of his father's, leaving literally no share for Kate as this was the early law in the 19th century.

In both Porphyrias' Lover and Cousin Kate the theme of love is explored. Now take Porphyria's lover it is based upon a woman being taken for granted as she has made her lover obsessed with love whereas Cousin Kate is about a man taking advantage of a women's naivety. Both poems are showing women as victims and men as people who are predators. Also it can be noted that at the end of each play the man is content but is still flawed take Porphyria's lover in the play he kills Porphyria therefore can't be fully content and in Cousin Kate the Lord has lost a son an heir to his power therefore again for being fully content.

There is one major difference in Cousin Kate as opposed to Porphyria's lover is at the end of Cousin Kate the woman has survived because she knows she has the lords son whereas in Porphyria's lover the woman is the victim in murder. Also Cousin Kate is written in the past tense whereas Porphyria's lover is written in the present tense. Another point taken into account is the endings in Porphyria's lover murder is the final conclusion whereas in Cousin Kate Goodness has come from something unpleasant even though she had a shabby relationship with the Lord that went all wrong she managed to get a sun out of it which kept her spirits high.

In this essay I have explored about 'Cousin Kate' and 'Porphyria's Lover' looking at the themes of both poems and commenting on there impacts. Personally, I have preferred the style which Rossetti incorporates in her 'Cousin Kate'. It truly shows how a woman, despite being neglected by society in general, manages to overcome her feelings deciding to employ her pregnancy for a cause, like avenging herself against her betrayers.