Oh, To Be In England

Oh, To Be In England

This week’s choice is “Home Thoughts from Abroad” by Robert Browning which seems appropriate now that April has arrived.

Oh, to be in England
Now that April’s there

Robert Browning (1812—1889)

Poem 209. 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!

This poem heralds the arrival of Spring (or at least, April) as it describes the early buddings and stirrings to the music of the birdsong. It is a rather wistful reminiscence written by a man who is living in a foreign country but who remembers fondly the kindly English spring.

I like this poem for its lovely descriptions of the sights and sounds of spring in England: the elm and brushwood in leaf and the song of the chaffinch and then the returning of the migratory birds and their nest-building. By the time May comes, a thrush is singing in the pear-tree which is heavy with blossom. Browning suggests that the bird sings its song twice to show it can sing it perfectly each time “Lest you should think he never could recapture/The first fine careless rapture!”

He ends by praising the brightness of the buttercup against the gaudier and dowdier Italian melon-flower. There is no doubt where this poet would rather be in April and May!

H.E. Bates took the opening line of this poem as the title for the fourth book in his novels about the Larkin family.

The singer-songwriter Clifford T. Ward (1944—2001) wrote the song “Home Thoughts From Abroad” when he was performing at American Army bases in France in the early 1960s.

I’ve been reading Browning, Keats and William Wordsworth
And they all seem to be saying the same thing for me
Well I like the words they use, and I like the way they use them
You know, Home Thoughts From Abroad is such a beautiful poem
And I know how Robert Browning must have felt
‘Cause I’m feeling the same way about you

Home Thoughts From Abroad, by Clifford T. Ward.

It is now two years since I started selecting poems and writing about them, initially three a week and now one. I hope that my choices are as interesting to you as they are to me.


  • Read about the poem on Wikipedia.
  • Watch Clifford T. Ward perform Home Thoughts From Abroad on YouTube.
  • Watch Geoffrey Palmer read the poem on YouTube.