Life, Literature

Thoughts of Abroad, From Home

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!!

Perhaps it’s the fact that I can’t go to England at the moment, that makes me want to, almost more than anything. At the same time as the fact that I can’t go out and watch a movie by myself (something I do, at most, maybe two or three times a year) has suddenly become one of my greatest yearnings, even though I can’t think of one I really want to see. What is it about the human condition that makes us so extremely contrary, I wonder. “That which we are, we are,” as another Victorian poet observed. Sometimes, for the sake of my own peace of mind, I wish I weren’t, at least not quite so much.

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, “Home Thoughts From Abroad”)

There’s something so very beautiful (and, yes, chilly, damp and even foggy!) about an English Spring. I think Browning has it exactly right: The beauty of it, as with God, is in the details–the tiny flowers, the sweet songs of the little birds, the budding leaves, the clover, the dewdrops, all ringing through the changes of the seasons. The “gaudy melon-flowers” and the often overwhelming heat and colors and scents and sights and sounds of the warmer climes notwithstanding (Browning spent years of his life in Italy), most of the men and women of the British Empire (and what’s left of it), never really get over their longing for the gentle countryside Aprils of their childhood–I know that was true of my own mother and father, and it’s still true for me.

Yet, unless we want to drive ourselves to distraction, we must learn to “bloom where we’re planted.” And right now, I find myself planted firmly at home, a place I also love, in a situation that I can’t fix or change. So I’m doing what I can to bloom here, quite contentedly and successfully. Walking, knitting, writing, cooking, chatting, watching, and gardening. Hoping that all those I love stay well and safe. Praying that’s the case for them and everyone else, and for the swift, and not too-terribly-damaging end of this dreadful ordeal. (Note well that “cleaning house” doesn’t loom large on my list. I especially like that meme that was circulating a week or so ago–“I’ve always believed I didn’t clean my house because I didn’t have the time. Lately, I’ve found out that’s not the reason.”)

Yet, even while my feet are planted firmly on the ground here, and as I’m busy doing other things, sometimes I just let my mind wish, and long, and wander. “Lonely as a cloud” you might say. Until “my heart with pleasure fills/And dances with the daffodils.”

I don’t think there’s a thing wrong with that. After all, I’m only human.

Stay home. Stay safe. Stay well.

This is a repost from April, 2020, not long after the pandemic hit and much of the United States went into one or another form of lockdown.  So much has changed, not only for the country, but also for me, in the intervening twelve months.  Yet much, both good and not-so-good, endures.

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