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
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!

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robert browning image

Victorian poet Robert Browning grew up in South London with ties to familial heritage in St. Kitts. His widespread family history includes an extensive musical background, literary exposure, and an evangelical faith. This path led him to pursue a career in poetry following his education at University College London, most famously through his work on dramatic monologues. With a life that spanned nearly the entirety of the 19th century, Browning’s work encompasses poetry on his travels in Italy (where he lived with wife Elizabeth Barrett Browning, a fellow poet) and throughout Western Europe.

Among Browning’s better-known works is Home-Thoughts, from Abroad. The poem opens with a reminiscence of England in the spring: “Oh, to be in England / Now that April’s there” (lines 1-2). This tone of wistfulness develops into praise for the author’s home, as can be when Browning assures that, “though the fields look rough with hoary dew, / All will be gay when noontide wakes anew” (lines 17-18). Browning does not idealize the land so much so that it appears perfect, but rather acknowledges the continual hope for better weather and a better future.home-thoughts, from abroad image

The poem progresses from April to May in the second stanza, and the result is a development that hints at the passage of time. Given Browning’s travels throughout Europe, this work of rhymed stanza (see “follows” in line 9 and “swallows” in line 10) aligns well with the author’s focus on his physical journey with his wife. Despite their comfortable lifestyle, however, “Home-Thoughts, from Abroad” suggests that Browning’s heart will always remain in his home nation of England.


Isabella Zuroski is a senior English and Sociology double major from Bemus Point, New York.  She is the president of W&L’s all-female a cappella group Jubilee, and she has a special fondness for A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, as well as anything written by Frank McCourt.

William Shakespeare, “Sonnet 130”

My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red, than her lips red:
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound:
I grant I never saw a goddess go,
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
And yet by heaven, I think my love as rare,
As any she belied with false compare.

In honor of Valentine’s Day this coming Friday, here is Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 130.”  Shakespeare satirizes the traditional love poem, which is often a vehicle to idealize the speaker’s lover by using flowery language to liken her beauty to natural imagery.  Associated with Petrarch, this style was also popular in Elizabethan England.  shakespeare rose imageHowever, Shakespeare boldly countered this traditional style, as evidenced by this very sonnet.  The speaker reveals his lover’s imperfections by comparing her to beautiful objects found in nature and admits that her physical appearance cannot add up to things as beautiful as roses, snow, or the sun.  Instead, the speaker remains confident that he can glorify his lover without exaggerated and unrealistic metaphors, that their love is both honest and unparalleled.  Shakespeare makes sure to cover all conventional imagery like the heavens, nature, seasons, music, and classical allusions, but mocks them to realistically depict his lover.  Although atypical in the treatment of the subject matter, this sonnet demonstrates what is now known as the Shakespearean sonnet: the three quatrains and singular couplet follow the ababcdcdefefgg rhyme scheme.

shakespeare imageWilliam Shakespeare, an English poet, playwright, and actor, published a collection of 154 sonnets in 1609 titled Sonnets, one of which was Sonnet 130.  Shakespeare is most famous for his plays, which included comedies, histories, and tragedies, though he tended to mix comedy into his tragedies.  Shakespeare’s blank verse in iambic pentameter was his dominant poetic form and demonstrated his mastery of the English language, however he wasn’t highly esteemed until years after his death.  Today Shakespeare is considered the greatest writer in the English language, and has left a lasting influence on theatre and literature.

shakespeare sonnets image

Sonnet 130 was originally published in Sonnets, a collection of poems by William Shakespeare in 1609.  The exact year that this particular sonnet was written remains unknown.


Isabella Zuroski is a senior English and Sociology double major from Bemus Point, New York.  She is the president of W&L’s all-female a cappella group Jubilee, and she has a special fondness for A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, as well as anything written by Frank McCourt.

Emily Dickinson, “‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers” (1891)

[254]

“Hope” is the thing with feathers —
That perches in the soul —
And sings the tune without the words —
And never stops — at all —

And sweetest — in the Gale — is heard —
And sore must be the storm —
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm —

I’ve heard it in the chillest land —
And on the strangest Sea —
Yet, never, in Extremity,
It asked a crumb — of Me.

 

 

“Hope is the Thing with feathers” was first published in 1891.  Without ever actually using the word “bird” but once, Dickinson likens hope itself to a creature of flight.  The language of the first two lines suggests the weightlessness that hope brings with it: the upward motion of the wind ruffling through feathers; the lightness of a tiny bird on its perch, ready at a moment’s notice to flutter away. BEAUTIFUL-GREEN-NATURE-WITH-BIRDS-BUE-JAY-BIRD

The poem sings of the robust, enduring nature of hope.  The picture of a tiny bird against gargantuan storms and gales reminds the reader of the immense power that even the smallest fragment of hope can hold, no matter how deep in the soul it is buried.  Dickinson contrasts the “chill[y],” “strange” possibilities of the world we all face with the sweetness and warmth of the little bird.

The tone of this poem is quite characteristic of Dickinson.  Although she spent much of her life in seclusion and her experiences were limited, she was a dreamer and many of her poems glowed with promise and possibility.  “’Hope’ is the thing with feathers” simply and eloquently acknowledges the enduring human capability for hope.

Emily Dickinson Picture

Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) was born in Amherst, Massachusetts.  She lived a quiet, secluded life and suffered occasionally from bouts of depression.  Because the world she inhabited was small, her subject matter was limited but focused.  Her garden was one of her greatest passions and appeared often in her writing.  This seclusion also influenced her poetic voice – her poetry sings of the possibility of dreams not yet realized.  Very few of Dickinson’s poems were published when she was alive, and the depth of her poetry was not known until her family discovered her collection of poems after her death.  Today, Dickinson is one of the most appreciated American poets.  She is often admired for her efficient yet brilliant word choice and for defying the rigidity in form that limited many writers before her, though she leans heavily on Common (or hymnal) measure, with its 8-6-8-6 syllables and abab (however slant or subverted) rhyme.

Johnson’s edition of The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson is readily available (including with Amazon) and includes all 1775 of her poems.  Her letters are available in his edition of Final Harvest.

 


Isabella Zuroski is a senior English and Sociology double major from Bemus Point, New York.  She is the president of W&L’s all-female a cappella group Jubilee, and she has a special fondness for A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, as well as anything written by Frank McCourt.

Ann Fisher-Wirth, “No Vow” (2012)

Calm yourself, here where the blue painted saint
in his wooden shrine
presides over the hillside. The mountain lion
they saw by the barn is not, as you’re convinced,
looking especially for you. Yet all you can see
is your own fear, projected on to his twitching tail.

Calm yourself, you who could not fight a dog
or outrun a rattler. There’s nothing to be done.
The world makes you no vow.
Flies want what you offer.
Pray all you like, carry a whistle around your neck,
march along the trail singing.
The hay is white and golden in the wind.
The thistles, crowns of thorn, with light on every sepal.

 

“No Vow” appears in Dream Cabinet (2012). You could see it as a contemporary response to Robert Frost’s 1936 “Design,” in which Frost questions the relationship between humans and nature and humans and a divine creator. “No Vow,” appropriately written in free verse, critiques the human need to control, concluding that nature has a sacredness that transcends our ability to overpower or understand it.

The poem begins with an apostrophe that seems almost as though the speaker is addressing herself. She seeks calm from anxiety and fear of nature, the “mountain lion.” She tells herself not to fear the lion’s threatening “tail,” but rather to acknowledge the whole “body” of what this fear actually represents: the fear of death. But in the second half, the speaker finds resolution from this fear, concluding that the world follows its own rules; perhaps there is no predestined “trail” or way to overcome death. Perhaps, though, art, like the “blue painted saint” (or like a poem) can provide solace from fear.ann fisher-wirth POW pic 1

“No Vow” acknowledges the reality that while life necessarily involves fear, this fear cannot be reconciled by attempting to “outrun a rattler” or govern and attempt to make sense of the world. But take comfort in the purity of all that is pure, “white and golden,” like the hay, and like art. There can be solace in spite of the wind.

Ann Fisher-Wirth pic POWAnn Fisher-Wirth is a poet, scholar, and yoga instructor in Oxford, Mississippi. Her books include Dream Cabinet, Blue Window, Five Terraces and Carta Marina: A Poem in Three Parts. This year, she also co-edited The Ecopoetry Anthology, a groundbreaking collection of American poetry from Whitman to the present time, published by Trinity University Press. She has received many awards and accolades as well as eleven Pushcart nominations for her work, and she has held Fulbrights to Switzerland and Sweden. She teaches poetry workshops at the University of Mississippi’s MFA program. She also teaches twentieth-century literature and environmental literature and directs the University’s Environmental Studies minor.

Find Dream Cabinet and Fisher-Wirth’s other books on amazon.com.


Isabella Zuroski is a senior English and Sociology double major from Bemus Point, New York.  She is the president of W&L’s all-female a cappella group Jubilee, and she has a special fondness for A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, as well as anything written by Frank McCourt.