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Education for Leisure by Carol Ann Duffy and Porphyria’s Lover by Robert Browning

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When I first read these two poems, they seemed to have nothing in common with each other. However, after reading them thoroughly, some similarities appeared and the differences became less apparent.

“Education for Leisure” concerns a lonely, paranoid individual who leads a normal, boring life. He has been denied the opportunity to make something of himself, either through his own laziness or the education system failing him. But he believes himself to be a genius and he wants to controls other peoples’ lives, as he has never had control over his own. He tries to attract attention by killing.

The subject in “Porphyria’s Lover” is that of a couple, not meant to be together for whatever reason, and are secretly meeting. Once the man realises that Porphyria loves him, he is so overcome with surprise that he strangles her, in order to preserve the moment and the feeling that Porphyria had for him.

If Carol Ann Duffy were to read the “Education for Leisure” aloud, I expect that she would read it in a very bored manner, to reflect the life that the persona lives. In the places where the persona is acknowledging his brilliance, the tone would be very cocky and arrogant. He pictures himself as a talented person who society has failed, and feels that we should pity him for being the ignored frustrated individual that he is.

In “Porphyria’s Lover”, the man sounds very much like a child. He sounds like a murderer; the way in which he is very gentle and childlike is frightening to me. In a way he also sounds selfless, killing Porphyria because it was her wish for them to be together. But this persona is also selfish in that he killed Porphyria because he wanted her to love only him.

“Education for Leisure” is a free verse poem and there is no definite rhyme scheme to it, although there a few instances of internal rhyme:

“…today I am going to play God. It is an ordinary day, a sort of grey…”

The rhythm in “Education for Leisure” is iambic pentameter (5 stressed and unstressed syllables to each line) and this iambic rhythm also keeps the poem at a steady pace.

“Porphyria’s Lover” has a more definite rhyming scheme. The rhymes are in two different patterns: a, b, a, b, b, and e, f, g, f, g, g. The rhythm is in iambic tetrameter, with four stressed and unstressed syllables to each line.

The imagery in “Education for Leisure” is mixed between powerful images and softer images. The powerful images, such as the squashed fly against the window and the bread knife are created without the use of word effects, such as similes, metaphors etc. “Boredom stirring in the streets,” is an example of both pathetic fallacy and a metaphor. The character is so bored with life that he can see it, stirring in the streets. Of course, it isn’t, but the author uses a metaphor and pathetic fallacy to illustrate this. She also uses metaphors later on in when the character squashes a fly against the window, and says “now the fly is in another language.” And when he “breathes out talent,” onto the window.

In “Porphyria’s Lover” Robert Browning also uses a lot of metaphors to illustrate his poem. For example, in the second line “It tore the elm tops down for spite,” he gives the wind a persona as well as using pathetic fallacy. The most powerful image of the piece is in line 43: “As a shut bud that holds a bee.” This simile is used to describe Porphyria as she was when she was strangled; the young bud that had not yet flowered, and holds the potential sting within it. The sting would be the part of her that would hurt him, and he killed her to preserve her loveliness and trap the sting.

The vocabulary in “Education for Leisure” very much reflects the life of the character: bored, ignored and not appreciated etc. Most of the words are monosyllabic, enforcing this idea of the education system failing him and now he is not able to use more elaborate vocabulary. Many of the words and the things he does are boring and the author uses colloquialisms to describe these: he squashes the fly; he pours the goldfish down the bog etc.

The vocabulary in “Porphyria’s Lover” was slightly difficult to understand at first. Because the poem was written over 150 years ago, obviously there are differences in the way it is written, the way society was then etc. From the first line, the word order is different than how it would be written today. The fact that Porphyria wears a shawl and a cloak, and that she lights the fire and considers his needs first reflect when this poem was written i.e. in the 19th Century and women were second class to the men etc. Some of the words used in “Porphyria’s Lover” are not used today, or used in a different context, e.g. vex, o’er, gay, oped etc.

“Education for Leisure” didn’t make me think about anything in particular, just a lot of jumbled thoughts. It made me think about loneliness as a whole, how people feel in a situation where there is nobody there to talk to. Imagine how the cat feels without the goldfish to terrify. A bit like the persona with nothing left to kill. “Education for Leisure” also made me feel a bit scared; that there are people like this individual around.

“Porphyria’s Lover” also made me think of various ideas associated with the theme. I don’t enjoy poetry that is difficult to understand, so I wasn’t very keen on this one. Even after I understood it, I preferred “Education for Leisure” because I could relate to some parts of that poem; feeling bored and under appreciated. I thought that the persona is “Porphyria’s Lover” was selfish, because he was only considering his own feelings when he killed Porphyria. Even though she wanted to be with him, I don’t see the logic behind him killing her because she’s dead and you can’t have a relationship with a corpse.

“Education for Leisure” is structured in five four-line stanzas with iambic pentameter, whereas “Porphyria’s Lover” is set in one long stanza of 60 lines.


Both poems have a lot of differences and similarities. The similarities in the subjects of “Education for Leisure” and “Porphyria’s Lover” include both parties being psychotic; intent on controlling other peoples lives for themselves. They like power, and would kill to get it. However the persona killing in “Education for Leisure” was killing anything, just for the thrill of killing, in “Porphyria’s Lover”, the persona was killing Porphyria specifically because he wanted to freeze the moment.

The tone in which each poem is delivered is also, in some instances, similar. Each poem is told using ordinary language and in a matter-of-fact way. Also, being masculine personas, the tone is also arrogant is some places. But the tone of “Education for Leisure” is very bored, whereas the tone of “Porphyria’s Lover” is almost childlike in his insecurities.

Both poems have different rhythms and rhyming schemes, but each does have a regular rhyming scheme. “Education for Leisure” has an iambic pentameter, with a regular rhythm but no formal rhyme. “Porphyria’s Lover” has a set rhyming scheme and has an iambic tetrameter.

Both poems use pathetic fallacy and metaphors to demonstrate their imagery. “Education for Leisure” uses powerful images of squashed flies on their own, and incorporates metaphors and pathetic fallacy when using softer images. “Porphyria’s Lover” uses pathetic fallacy and provides a persona when describing the weather and metaphors when describing the powerful images such as the “shut bud that holds a bee,”.

The fact that both poems are set over 150 years apart increases the likelihood of differences between them. The vocabulary is very different, though each poem is told in the first person. “Porphyria’s Lover” uses different word orders that make the poems slightly more difficult to make out. There is a lot of use of word effects; metaphors, pathetic fallacy etc. This is also the case in “Education for Leisure”. “Boredom stirring in the streets,” is an example of such uses of metaphors and pathetic fallacy. The vocabulary he uses is very simple, possibly reflecting his lack of education mentioned before. He also uses negative words: ignored; ordinary; grey; boring etc. more examples of pathetic fallacy.

The structure in “Education for Leisure” is in free verse, split into five four-line stanzas, whereas “Porphyria’s Lover” is one long stanza of 60 lines, only divided by its rhyming scheme every five or so lines.

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