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Robert Browning’s Poetry

by: Robert Browning

“Home-Thoughts, From Abroad”

Complete Text

Oh, to be in England,
Now that April’s there,
And whoever wakes in England
Sees, some morning, unaware,
That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf
Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough In England - now!
And after April, when May follows,
And the whitethroat builds, and all the swallows -
Hark! where my blossomed pear-tree in the hedge
Leans to the field and scatters on the clover
Blossoms and dewdrops - at the bent spray’s edge -
That’s the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,
Lest you should think he never could recapture
The first fine careless rapture!
And though the fields look rough with hoary dew,
All will be gay when noontide wakes anew
The buttercups, the little children’s dower,
- Far brighter than this gaudy melon-flower!

Summary

“Home-Thoughts, From Abroad” celebrates the everyday and the domestic, taking the form of a short lyric. The poet casts himself in the role of the homesick traveler, longing for every detail of his beloved home. At this point in his career, Browning had spent quite a bit of time in Italy, so perhaps the longing for England has a bit of biographical urgency attached to it. The poem describes a typical springtime scene in the English countryside, with birds singing and flowers blooming. Browning tries to make the ordinary magical, as he describes the thrush’s ability to recreate his transcendental song over and over again.

Form

Except for the poem’s rhyme scheme and number of lines, it resembles an inverted sonnet: it divides into two sections, each of which is characterized by its own tone. The first, shorter stanza establishes the emotional tenor of the poem—the speaker longs for his home. This section contains two trimeter lines, followed by two tetrameter lines, three pentameter lines, and a final trimeter line; it rhymes ABABCCDD. The metrical pattern and the rhyme scheme give it a sort of rising and falling sense that mirrors the emotional rise and fall of the poem’s central theme: the burst of joy at thinking of home, then the resignation that home lies so far away.

The second section is longer, and consists almost entirely of pentameter lines, save the eighth line, which is tetrameter. It rhymes AABCBCDDEEFF. The more even metrical pattern and more drawn-out rhyme plan allow for a more contemplative feel; it is here that the poet settles back and thinks on the progress of the seasons that cycle outside of him. In its metrical irregularity and surprising last line, as well as its overall tone, the poem suggests the work of Emily Dickinson.

Commentary

This seemingly simple little poem reacts in quite complex ways to both Romanticism and the development of the British Empire. The domestic bliss and rapturous exchange with nature that characterize many Romantic poems emerge here as the constructions of people who do not live the life about which they write. But these constructions were integral to an illusion of “Rural England” that served as a crucial background for many philosophical ideas, and as a powerful unifying principle for many Britons: as the British Empire grew, and more British citizens began to live outside the home islands, maintaining a mythical conception of “England” became important as a way to differentiate oneself from the colonies’ native population. As works like Forster’s A Passage to India show, the British abroad in the colonies (such as India) worked much harder at being British than their compatriots in London. Thus in this period, sentimental thoughts of the English countryside, such as the ones in this poem, hardly ever present a pure nostalgia; rather, they carry a great deal of ideological weight.

Nevertheless this poem contains much sincerity. Browning had left Britain, although he lived in Italy and not in a British colony. And as is evident from the poem, his relationship with “home” was a troubled one: although the speaker here longs for home, he doesn’t miss it enough to live there. Perhaps some things are best appreciated from abroad; perhaps some emotions are felt more acutely away from home. And perhaps, as this light little poem implies, it is only away from “home” that one can create serious dramatic poetry.