Firstly, continuing with my ongoing Russian reading project, I’ve just finished a pile of books by Turgenev – check out the Russian Literature page to see how he fits into the Tsarist Russian literary canon.
Also, in honour of National Poetry Month in the UK, I’ve decided to depart from book blog post with my poem of the month by Robert Browning
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
And after April, when May follows,
And the whitethroat builds, and all the swallows!
Hark, where my blossom’d 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!
I discovered this poem when spending a year abroad before university and I must say it really spoke to my slightly home-sick state. I really do love the first verse, it perfectly captures that sense that you never appreciated things when you had them. The idea that those lucky enough to be at home ‘see … unaware‘ ties into traveler’s guilt – that you keep missing the things that are important and right under your nose. This is then coupled with the homesickness that comes when you realize something small did make an impression on you, and is now the thing you miss the most.
It’s getting on for May too, so I feel it’s also appropriate to comment on my favorite phrase in the second verse. This poems is all about small moments, waking up, buttercups at noon and, that most transient of beauties, birdsong. I don’t think Browning is the most philosophical of poets, but I really find something profound in the reason for birds repeating their call: Lest you should think he never could recapture / The first fine careless rapture!’ Poetically it’s a nice response to Shakespeare’s insistence on how words live forever. Here we have natural artists whose longevity depends on their constant output. On the other hand, they’re also natural show-offs who astound humans time and time again with their, ironically repeatable, ‘fine careless rapture‘. It’s all about imperfect human perceptions in the face of the wonders of nature. Importantly, it’s about how human beings can enjoy and take great pleasure in these wonders. I know there’s a weird xenophobic Anglo-centrist thing going on as well, but I try to ignore it.
There we have it, some April poetry thoughts from Robert Browning:
1. Notice the small things around you, try not to be unaware, but don’t worry if you are. The important things will make an impact anyway.
2. If you can do something well, do it again. Show it’s not an accident – and always try to repeat experiences of careless rapture
3. A small point – don’t believe everything poets tell you. Browning’s being unfairly snide about the melon-flower.