Yorkshire Times
Weekend Edition
Steve Whitaker
Literary Editor
7:03 AM 2nd April 2024

Poem Of The Week: Home Thoughts, From Abroad By Robert Browning (1812-1889)

Home Thoughts, from Abroad

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!

Image by Sophie Grieve-Williams on Unsplash
Image by Sophie Grieve-Williams on Unsplash
Whether ‘Home Thoughts, from Abroad’ is one of Britain’s most popular poems because the kind of people who subscribe to the notion of poetry as a contest are also those who swell with patriotic fervour at the image of a halcyon landscape now besmirched by modernity and immigration, is a moot point.

Browning’s poem – a staple of ‘UK All-Time Favourites’ lists – is ill-served by its critical reputation: undermined to the point of irony by heavily contextualised perceptions of Victorian nationalistic longing, it adopts the pallor of a sentimental parody in our own time.

Which is to do the poem a disservice. If we strip away the equipage of preconception and consider ‘Home Thoughts, from Abroad’ as a simple poem of seasonal homesickness, as conceived from the perspective of Browning’s lengthy visit to Italy, we reveal verses of real beauty and authenticity to emotion. Rendered in alternating metrical arrangements and varying rhyme schemes over the two stanzas, the poet becomes more enraptured as the poem unfolds. From the opening octave’s contemplative languor, the narrator ushers in a second stanza whose sensitivity to the colours and natural diversions of the countryside are steroidally enhanced by force of imagination.

As Spring moves into May, and trees and flowers burst into life, the narrator is surprised by his own susceptibility, as if awoken from a dream of his homeland.

‘Home Thoughts, from Abroad’ is taken from The New Oxford Book of English Verse, 1250-1950, and is published by the Oxford University Press (1972).