The Volatile Properties of Emotions in Porphyria’s Lover, the Raven and Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister

Humans experience a wide variety of emotions which can be strong enough to cause people to act solely on the emotion and often against what the person usually would do. Poets often write about people who are ruled by their emotions to show us cautionary tales which warn us not to allow our lives or our actions to be dictated by our emotions. This is the case in Robert Browning’s “Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister,” and “Porphyria’s Lover,” as well as Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven,” in which characters are ruled by their emotions resulting in terrible events to unfold.

In “Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister,” Browning shows how a simple bout of jealousy can progress into a deep-seated hatred that could drive a devout monk to contemplate selling his soul to the devil. The monk, who also serves as the speaker of the poem but never reveals his name to the audience, has developed a deep hatred for another monk by the name of Brother Lawrence.

As the poem progresses the speaker reveals that he has been doing anything and everything in his power to spite Lawrence even clipping the buds from the plants in the abbey garden which Lawrence oversees. Near the end of the poem the speaker reveals that he has begun contemplating finding a way to trick Lawrence into committing a Hell worthy damnation or even selling his own soul to Satan only to somehow trick the devil into taking Lawrence in his place. Browning uses the speaker’s devotion to cause Lawrence to experience a fall from grace in any way to show us how jealousy and hatred can blind us from what we do when we lash out at someone who we are jealous of.

“Porphyria’s Lover,” also by Browning, takes us to the opposite end of the emotional spectrum, focusing on love and desire and the perils of allowing them to control your actions. The speaker of “Porphyria’s Lover” is a man who loves Porphyria but the two cannot be together due to circumstances that are never fully explained to the audience. When Porphyria makes a comment suggesting that she wished that they could be together the speaker though of what he could do and, having been blinded by his desire to be with Porphyria, decided that the only solution was to kill her so they could be together. It is clear that the speaker was so caught up in the grip of desire that he did not understand the consequences of his actions as after he had killed Porphyria he was excited that they could finally be together.

The thought of killing someone whom we love is revolting, but this is what Browning wanted us to feel when we read “Porphyria’s Lover.” He wanted us to see the perils of being so blinded by love and desire that we do not use rational thinking resulting in us doing something out of character.

“The Raven,” by Poe shows us the perils of entering a dark despair and what happens when we wallow in the dark for too long. “The Raven,” centers on the speaker, a man who does not identify himself, who had lost his beloved wife Lenore before the events of the poem. One night the speaker hears a tapping sound coming from his bedroom door and, upon investigating the noise, discovers a raven perched outside of the door. Taking the bird as an omen of death the speaker begins lamenting the anguish and despair that his loss has caused him and tries to obtain answers from the bird which only replies with a simple “Nevermore.”

Poe wrote “The Raven,” as a way to show us how many people react to loss, we often will shut ourselves out of the world which we view as dark and uncaring because it moves on while we are left grief-stricken and in despair. Poe is reminding us that while questioning why someone has passed away is natural we should grieve for our loss, but we should not allow our despair to cause us to lock ourselves away from the world for so long that we start talking to birds who perch themselves outside of our bedrooms. “Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister,” and “Porphyria’s Lover,” by Browning and “The Raven,” by Poe all illustrate why we should not allow our emotions to completely control our lives or our actions.

Of the three poems I enjoyed the line “Nevermore” from “The Raven,” the most. Poe uses the word “Nevermore” to remind us of death’s finality and, by having the raven answer any question the speaker asks with it, he also reminds us of the futility of asking why someone died because we will never obtain true answer.

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