Cover image for Home thoughts from abroad featuring Robert Browning

Home-Thoughts, From Abroad by Robert Browning: An Analysis

Have you ever felt homesick? I mean, you could be at the best possible place right now, surrounded by views that you can only imagine, but all you can think about is the comfort of your home, you somehow know what would be happening there and just sit and wish to be a part of it. This is what Home-Thoughts, from Abroad is about. A constant reminder of your sweet home.

Home-Thoughts, from Abroad is a poem by Robert Browning, similar to that feeling of being homesick. The poem was published in the year 1845 and at the time of its writing, Browning was in the northern part of Italy. Robert Browning lived a long part of his life in England, and being in a foreign country is what makes him feel “homesick”. The central idea of the poem revolves around the poet’s home, and he describes the little things that he enjoyed there the most.

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

Meaning and Summary

The speaker tells us that one is truly lucky to be in England during April. The people there would wake up one morning and be surprised to see that spring has arrived. He also mentions the elm trees and how the chaffinches would be singing on the orchard trees. That is what would be happening in England during April.

It is worth noting that how meticulously Browning describes the scene, which shows how close his home his to his heart. These little things might not mean too much for the readers, but it is not mentioned to make you imagine what the poet is imagining. Rather, it is meant to invoke a similar feeling.

Think about the place you love to be the most, and remember all the little details of that place. The trees that cover the sky, the roads, the houses, every little thing. Then you’d get the same feeling which the poet is feeling.

In the next stanza, the speaker starts talking about what happens in England during May. He tells us that the whitethroats must be building their nests and the swallows would build theirs. He tells us to pay attention to the pear tree, we might hear the thrush singing. There’s no doubt that the scene he describes is beautiful, something anyone would love to see.

The fields might look whitish grey due to the dew in the morning, but by afternoon, the buttercup flowers blossom which is a delight for little kids. The poet tells us that seeing the buttercups is a way better sight than seeing the “gaudy” melon flowers. The buttercups’ color is much more vibrant and beautiful than the melon flowers that he can see.

The whole is about the feeling the poet gets after seeing the beautiful scene around him. This is the reason he misses his home, and why he feels that there is no other place as beautiful as England. It’s not objectively correct. The same feeling can happen for anyplace if you live there and love being there.

Analysis of the Poem

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!

In the first line of the poem, we can see the longingness of the poet to be in England. The poet tells us that April has started there and any day someone will be surprised to encounter the onset of spring. The lowest branch and the small fresh leaves growing around the elm tree will be a sight worth seeing. The chaffinches sing on the branch of the orchard tree in England during April.

These lines tell us about the little details that the poet remembers about spring in England. It seems that the speaker might have spent quite a long time in England to be aware of these things. His longing to go back can be expressed by the way he says “oh” at the beginning of the line. He does not only feel this way but also makes the reader feel the need and belongingness of home.

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!

The poet tells us about the month that follows April, i.e., may. The poet demonstrates that it is the time when the Whitethroat builds its own nest and the swallow bird builds their own. The poet tells us “hark”, meaning to pay attention to the pear tree that has blossomed. The tree that leans towards the clover field near the “hedge” and is covering it with its petals and “dewdrops”.

The “wise thrush” is sitting on the tip of the “bent” branch. This bird has the beauty of singing each song “twice over” effortlessly. The bird makes sure that we don’t make the mistake of thinking that he cannot capture his first “careless rapture”.

The speaker tells us that though at the moment the fields may look rough and whitish because of the dew. But by the afternoon tide, the fields are going to look bright and happy. The children love the buttercup flowers that blossom and the speaker think that the buttercup flowers are far more bright than the “gaudy” melon- a flower that he sees at the moment.

By reading these lines, we understand how much the speaker was aware and observant of his surroundings. Spring brings him happiness and joy, new flowers blooming, and thrushes singing were all that he was longing for.

But all he had in view was the overbright and extravagant melon- flowers which he seemed to dislike. It is after being distant from someplace or someone that we realised its worth. Thus, the speaker seemed not so delighted by where he was but rather the little things of his home that brought him joy.

Themes

The themes that are prevalent in the poem “Home- Thoughts, from Abroad” are spring, nostalgia, and homesickness. The speaker is full of nostalgic memories of springtime in England. Though he is far away from home, he knows exactly what is going on in England.

He tells us about how people recognize the onset of spring, the birds that sing, and the flowers that grow simply because it is the month of April. It is the bittersweet feeling of nostalgia that he feels happy while thinking and writing about it but also feels sad and regretful that he is not there but in some foreign place.

The poet feels homesick and his longing to be in England and experience spring can be reflected in his poem. The way he describes spring, it seems that it is a time of renewal in England, where all you see is beauty around you. The speaker expresses spring not simply as a season but also tells us the power that spring holds, the joy and new life that it fills the world with.

The speaker is surrounded by “gaudy” melon- flowers but that is not where he wants to be, he wants to be at his home. Moreover, it was during April that the speaker had this yearning to be at his home and experience spring.

Though he knows everything that happens during spring, its predictability does not make it less beautiful. It is the predictability of this season that brings him joy. After reading the poem we understand how powerfully the feeling of homesickness impacted the speaker.

Literary Devices

Imagery plays an important role in the poem because it is the vivid description of the spring in England that expresses the yearning of the speaker to be there. For example:

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!

Anthropomorphism is the attribution of human traits and emotions to non-human entities. The speaker has used this literary device to describe the traits of a thrush. For example, the thrush sings its song twice over so that we do not make a mistake thinking that it cannot capture the beauty and joy of its first careless “rapture”. 

That’s the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,

Lest you should think he never could recapture

The first fine careless rapture!

Repetition is another poetic device used in the poem. The poet has repeated several words in the poem like “England”, “boughs”, “and” and “blossom”. These words are indicative of the fact that the poet might have experienced many springs in England and he remembers all the little details. Or, the poet is trying to express his yearning to go back to his home.

Enjambment is used in the poem to express the rising emotion that the poet feels, i.e., his yearning to go home. As readers, we are encouraged to read the next line to understand the emotions of the speaker. For example:

And whoever wakes in England

Sees, some morning, unaware,

While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough

In England—now

Metaphor is a literary device that is used in the poem, where the speaker has indirectly referred to another thing by mentioning something else. For example, the poet used the word “dower” to children. He does not mean literally giving dowry to children but he meant to say that the fields of buttercup provide equal happiness to the children.

The buttercups, the little children’s dower

Conclusion

The simplicity of the poem allows the raiders to connect with the speaker. It is rare for a poet to make the readers feel what he feels and Browning never fails to accomplish this. Moreover, the speaker feels nostalgic and unhappy to be away from home, but the arrival of spring in England brings him hope and joy even from a distance.

The poet knows exactly which birds build their nest in May and which birds sing. It is the predictability of spring that makes it more beautiful because there is the hope of new life and beauty. 

I believe that the poet has somehow tried to express what we feel sometimes, the yearning to be in a place called “home”, and he has taught us that rather than getting depressed for not being there we can remember the beautiful moments and the things that we experienced in our home.

Everyone has a different feeling about their home but the beautiful moments never seem to fade away. It is when we love something so intensively that we remember even its most vivid details. 

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