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Vocabulary in Porphyria's Lover
Vocabulary Examples in Porphyria's Lover:
"made the cheerless grate..." See in text (Porphyria's Lover)
Porphyria acts with deliberate, strong agency when she comes into the room. The verb “to make” emphasizes power and agency. In a way, she makes the cottage warm through her forcible will. This verb repeats itself in other locations, each time conveying a similar effect.
"elm-tops..." See in text (Porphyria's Lover)
Elm trees have a long history in mythology and literature and are symbolic of many things. Among those, elms have often been used to represent idyllic life, with the shade cast by their broad leaves as a place for coolness and peace. That the sullen wind rips down the elms portrays the tone and mood as menacing, heightening the tension regarding what’s to come.
"scorned..." See in text (Porphyria's Lover)
The verb “to scorn” means to mock, chide, or hold in contempt. It connotes an assumed intelligence, as if the scorner believes herself to be superior to what she scorns. While the speaker does not specify what Porphyria had “scorned,” this diction suggests that Porphyria was an intelligent person. However, the speaker dismisses this intelligence by portraying himself as a savior. In murdering her, he made this scorn, and the independence it symbolized, “flee” from her and replaced it with “I,” or love for him. The speaker conveys the idea that a woman only needs a man to make all of her other problems “flee,” a popular Victorian belief about love and marriage. In focusing on Porphyria’s “love” for him, the speaker can portray her as a conventional, innocent Victorian woman.
"smiling rosy little head..." See in text (Porphyria's Lover)
In describing Porphyria as having a “smiling rosy little head,” the speaker infantilizes her: she is no longer the sexual being with agency that we saw at the beginning of the poem, but something “little” and “rosy.” These words connote innocence and simplicity. In murdering this woman, the speaker is able to force her into traditional gender roles and “restore” her innocence.
"Be sure..." See in text (Porphyria's Lover)
The imperative “be sure” is generally used to emphasize an invitation or convey an instruction or reminder. It suggests a conversation between two people and could be read here as the speaker talking directly to the audience. However, it could also be read as “to be sure.” The speaker looks up into his lover’s eyes in order to “be sure,” or confirm, everything that he has thought about her uncontrollable passion and sexual desire.
"gay feast..." See in text (Porphyria's Lover)
The adjective “gay” means bright or lively, joyful, and full of mirth. For the middle class, Victorian parties were opportunities to make social connections, maintain relationships, and gain social power. That Porphyria leaves this happy party in order to go to her lover is a sign of her social deviance; she abandons this social ritual because her passion and love for this man are more important. The speaker sees this action as a type of weakness: her passion is so great that even her obligations to society cannot “restrain her.” He paints Porphyria as a wild, uncivilized woman who is at the mercy of her passion.
"give herself to me for ever..." See in text (Porphyria's Lover)
By “give herself to me for ever” the speaker means that the woman will give him her virginity. He characterizes her as “too weak” to resist her own passion. In Victorian society, extramarital sex was illicit and seen as a sign of moral corruption. The speaker sees his lover’s passion as something that makes her weak rather than a sign of her agency. This suggests that while she enacts more modern sexual liberty, he is still viewing their relationship through romantic, Victorian social structures.
"made..." See in text (Porphyria's Lover)
The use of the word “made” also connotes a type of force; the speaker seems to be conveying that the woman is acting contrary to his wishes. It also hints that he is the passive recipient in this relationship and that she holds the power. The pose of cheek-on-shoulder portrays the woman as a type of protective figure and the speaker as dependent on her.
"smiling rosy little head..." See in text (Porphyria's Lover)
The description of Porphyria as having a “rosy little head” once again shows the distance between the reality of the story and the speaker’s delusions. To the speaker, her head is “rosy”: a pleasant, flowery image. In reality, her head is flushed from having been recently strangled. The character’s name, Porphyria, fits with this latter image. Porphyria comes from the Greek word for “purple,” the color of her face.
"tress..." See in text (Porphyria's Lover)
The word “tress” refers to a braid of the woman’s hair. The use of this word here is interesting in that it draws attention to the beauty and delicacy of Porphyria’s hair. This is a sharp contrast from the ugly truth that the very same tress was used to kill her.
"dissever..." See in text (Porphyria's Lover)
The word “dissever” is an archaic synonym of “sever,” which means “to cut.” As with many of the poem’s passages, it is important to separate the speaker’s false interpretation of the world from the underlying reality. According to the speaker, Porphyria only holds back her “struggling passion” because of pride and other “vainer ties.” The speaker does not consider the possibility that Porphyria does not actually feel an overwhelming passion for him.
"Porphyria..." See in text (Porphyria's Lover)
Porphyria is the name of the speaker’s lover, the woman who has just entered the room. The word “porphyria” also denotes a particular blood disorder. Porphyria is known as the vampire’s disease because the symptoms are similar to those manifested by historical, mythological vampires. Caused by the improper creation of hemoglobin in the blood, this genetic disease can cause sensitivity to the sun, including a burning sensation when exposed to direct sunlight, insomnia, paranoia, blistering, frail skin, and scars.
"vex the lake..." See in text (Porphyria's Lover)
The verb “to vex” means to trouble, afflict, or harass aggressively in order to interfere with peace and quiet. The storm the speaker describes seems sadistically violent. One might read this description as an expression of the speaker’s own feelings: either he sympathizes with the wind and feels vengeful, or he sympathizes with the lake and feels persecuted. In either reading, the speaker seems to be in an emotionally unstable state.