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Home Thoughts From Abroad -- Robert Browning

       
(Poem #65) 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!
-- Robert Browning
About time we had some Browning, methinks :) I wouldn't call his poetry
'great', but it's often beautiful, and never less than enjoyable. While
noted mostly for his longer pieces, Browning has written a number of short
poems of surprising beauty. The one above is a nice example - it captures
the feel of the English countryide perfectly, and has some wonderfully
lyrical phrases. I like the somewhat irregular rhyme scheme and metre too -
they lend the poem a 'natural' air that fits in well with the imagery. If
'Song' was an etching, 'Home Thoughts' is a watercolour; at once vivid and
muted, detailed and impressionistic. (I'm just waiting for the flood of
emails[1] telling me I know even less about art than I do about poetry, but
you get the picture[2].) Someone remind me not to post at 6am again <g>.

[1] hi thomas :)
[2] no pun intended. honest.

Biographical Notes:

Robert Browning, 1812 - 1889

  English poet and dramatist, whose most ambitious work was The Ring and the
  Book (1868-69): a verse narrative in ten parts based on a real murder
  trial conducted in Florence.

  Tennyson had no admirer more generous than Robert Browning. At the end of
  their lives the reputation of these fellow-poets was about equal but
  divergent. Tennyson was the people's poet, Browning the poet of esoterics,
  real or aspiring.

  Browning was, he himself confesses, a "supremely passionate, unluckily
  precocious" youngster. [...] Pauline, his first published poem, he wrote
  at twenty-one, and afterwards rejected. It recounts something of his
  novitiate as a poet; for, like the greatest, he early knew himself elect
  to poetry, and resolved "to look and learn / Mankind, its cares, hopes,
  fears, its woes and joys."

  Late in life, in his Parleyings with Certain People of Importance in their
  Day, he recalls men whose books and ideas and music had held a leading
  part in his formative years. But the dominant infuence early and late was
  the poetry of Shelley, especially m its idealism and its straining for a
  vision of the perfect beyond the imperfect. His feeling for Shelley
  dictated Memorabilia.

  Somehow young Browning suffered little of the misery of body and soul so
  often the lot of young poets... A certain cheerful buoyancy about him, a
  balance between his abundant physical and spiritual health saved him and
  his poetry, as it had saved Fielding and Scott. It lay at the base of his
  life-long optimism, and was so constant that he exhibits no marked
  "phases" of development, but is much the same Browning to the end. His
  work accordingly defies sharp classification.

  If any one event marked a change in his work, it was his famous marriage
  with Elizabeth Barrett in 1846. Everyone knows the romantic story of the
  dreary household in that "long, unlovely" Wimpole Street, the narrow
  father ruling his large household with a hand that had ruled slaves in the
  West Indies, slowly forcing his daughter into invalidism, part imaginary,
  part real; and how, like a miracle, the hearty, sanguine young Robert,
  first attracted by her poetry, had sought her out loved her at once,
  inspired her with the purpose of recovery, married her secretly, and bore
  her off, pet spaniel and all, in triumph to Italy. He was thirty-four, she
  was forty.

  When his wife died Browning was forty-nine. In profound grief he left his
  beloved Italy as a home forever. How deeply he felt his loss, and what
  intimations it gave him, one may guess from his Prospice and such other
  poems in the volume, Dramatis Personae of 1864, as Abt Vogler and Rabbi
  Ben Ezra. Ever since his suppressed Pauline he had been averse to
  autobiographical revelations in his poetry; but the courage and
  characteristic balance and faith which sustained him through the
  twenty-seven years in which his wife was a memory shine cloudless in one
  of his last poems, the Epilogue to Asolando.

Assessment:

  Though not a national poet like Tennyson, Browning became the unwitting,
  and at heart unwilling, father of such a cult in his lifetime as never
  bored another English poet. Browning societies sprang up on both sides of
  the water, graciously accepted by the poet, while he protested that he
  himself was "no Browningite." This cult is not hard to explain. The poet's
  optimism and energy attracted many a mind weary of the forlorn struggle
  against defeat of spirit. His difficulty and supposed subtlety flattered
  the aspirations of blue-stockings, would-be esoterics, and other aspirants
  to "culture." It appealed to the multitude who do not value what they get
  too easily, but enjoy the exercise of earning it, and prize it more when
  won. In America Browning's energy and cheerful relish for everything made
  him a Victorian favorite.

  But now that the cult has subsided, even his advocates find themselves
  slipping into the habit of noting his failings--what he is not rather than
  what he is: he is no stylist, they admit, he is not clear, he is not
  tuneful, he is no reasoner, no philosopher, to some he is hardly
  civilized. Yet no poet, not even Homer, was ever more nearly omnivorous in
  his poetic appetite. Everything stirred poetic excitement in him till his
  great brain was stuffed and overflowing: insects, animals, flowers, every
  object touched with human life---books, walls, clothes, textures, marbles,
  houses, pictures, musical instruments, arms, drugs, and drinking-cups.

  Every poet is tortured with the necessity of fitting matter to form. With
  Browning the matter so abounds and crowds for utterance that it strains,
  distorts, and overflows the form. His language like his mind becomes
  congested, and weak but useful members--articles, conjunctions, relative
  pronouns, copu-las-are crowded out, and sentences get crushed to mere
  absolute phrases. And not content with one word or phrase for one thing,
  his very abundance repeats it, once, twice, thrice, in synonymous words,
  phrases, sentences, accumulating like the kennings in Old English poetry.

        -- Excerpted from
        <http://britishliterature.com/era/victoria-brownings.html>; again,
        do go and read the whole thing.

m.

64 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Marian Weekly said...

Wonderful! I love it too. Memorized it forty some years ago and was
thankful to find it. Thank you.
m

Laura10111 said...

I have been doing a essay on Home-toughts from abroad and I have found this
poem very specal as it has changed my veiws on poetry as I have never read a
'storey' poem before and not been bored!

Laura M Price

A Giridhar RAO said...

"Lest you should think he never could recapture / The first fine careless
rapture!"

that 'careless' recovers for me the original meaning of the word -- without
a care -- overlaid later by the sense of thoughtlessness: lovely!

regards

giridhar

Chris Hollis said...

A fine poem.

Clifford T Ward has penned a fine tribute to it in song by the same
name. Well worth a listen to, in my humble opinion.

janis guthrie said...

So much of England in this poem, and a painful awareness of how much we have lost in my lifetime (and I'm not 60 yet!) - the elm trees with their brushwood sheaf, most of the orchards, many of the thrushes and whitethroats, and many mornings of hoary dew. How long before people can become aware of the oneness of nature and its interdependence - before we are all lost. A very melancholic poem, these days!

Sharon Merrick said...

I found a small book called Pippa Passes in a thrift store. It appears to very very old. It is small and the cover is possibly leather. It is by Robert Browning. It says Thomas Y. Crowell & Co. New York on the inside. It is a play. It is titled Pippa Passes; A Drama 1841. All I have been able to find is poems by Browning but this is a Play.
Is this of any value to anyone. There is a dedication on the inside to Mr. Sergeant Talfourd typed initials R.B.

JONATHAN KEAYS said...

Dear Sharon,

I was moved by your lovingly detailed description below of a book i have long sought but never seen.
I am a newly-retired professor with a deep love of Browning's poetic optimism.. my favorite single quote is
<that a man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for?>
As a book lover, I would like to know more about someone who so selflessly offers up a little book which has cross'd her life-path.. what is the rest of the story? has it found a good home? have you?

Yours truly, Roy (Wright)

From: "Sharon Merrick" <sharonmerrick@>
I found a small book called Pippa Passes in a thrift store. It appears to very very old. It is small and the cover is possibly leather. It is by Robert Browning. It says Thomas Y. Crowell & Co. New York on the inside. It is a play. It is titled Pippa Passes; A Drama 1841. All I have been able to find is poems by Browning but this is a Play.
Is this of any value to anyone. There is a dedication on the inside to Mr. Sergeant Talfourd typed initials R.B.

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Rosemarycxy878 said...

I'm confident one can say without fear of successful contradiction, that Geoffrey Palmer's read would have made Robert Browning proud!

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