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For an English poet, Robert Browning sure loved Italy. We get it. Rolling, terraced hills, delicious food, amazing art—what's not to love, right? For Browning, though, Italy was more than a European vacation. It provided him with a much-needed shot at artistic rejuvenation.
You see, Browning's first trip to the northern part of Italy didn't turn out so well. He was there in 1838, doing research for a long poem he wrote called Sordello. The title took its name from a minor character in Dante's Divine Comedy, which sounds impressive enough. To the critics, though? Not so much.
When Sordello came out, the response ranged from "Meh" to "I don't get it," to "Somebody please stop this guy before he writes again." When faced with this critical talk-to-the-hand, though, did Browning crawl under his bed and cry himself to sleep? Well… maybe—we can't be sure, really. Still, if he did, he didn't leave any records of doing so.
What we do know is that, just like anyone who has success in life, Browning didn't give up at the first sign of rejection. In fact, he went right back to Italy for some more of that inspirational goodness. This time he headed to southern Italy, where he continued to produce poetry. And the results paid off.
His collection Dramatic Romances and Lyrics came out in 1845, the same year he met fellow (and better-known) poet Elizabeth Barrett. The pair got hitched the very next year—and can you guess to which Mediterranean country they moved?
If you said "Greece," then… you're just not paying attention. (The correct answer here if Italy.)
By all accounts, the Brownings lived a happy life in Italy. All the same, that doesn't mean that Robert Browning totally left his native England behind. His poem, "Home-Thoughts, from Abroad," which appeared in Dramatic Romances and Lyrics, gives us ample proof that you can take the poet out of England, but you can't take England out of the poet.
Essentially, the poem is a kind of homesick homage to the country Browning had left behind. As his poem imagines the beauty of the English countryside, we can't but help feel a bit sorry for him—until we remember that the dude was writing in Italy, not Fresno (no offense, Fresnarians). Homesickness is homesickness, we guess, no matter how awesome your new digs might be.
Let's face it: you don't want to live in your parents' basement for the rest of your life. Sure, the rent might be reasonable, but you won't really get to experience that much. Even with a high-speed Internet connection, you're bound to be bored and unfulfilled.
What you want is life, to get out there and mix it up, to see the world and appreciate new sights, new people, new ways of ordering at a McDonald's. Whether you're diving into a study abroad program or just saving your pennies for a bus trip to the next state over, you won't be held back by the same old routine and surroundings, day-in and day-out.
Still, seeing the world can be as intimidating as it is rewarding. What if folks speak a different language? How will you get around? What if they don't have any Big Macs? Travel can be stressful and homesickness is a real possibility.
Maybe you've gotten that in small doses before—at a summer camp or a trip to your grandparents'. It sneaks up on you: all of a sudden your world is strange and the only thing you can do is wish to be back in a familiar environment. When that happens, it's time to bust out a poem like Robert Browning's "Home-Thoughts, from Abroad."
For starters, the poem will show you that other folks have experienced homesickness, too. You're not alone in missing the sights and sounds that you've left behind. At the same time, though, the poem will give you a cure for this affliction. It's called… imagination.
Just check out the detail with which this poem thinks about home. Then focus on the details about your own home that you can bring to mind. Finally, realize that, when you do that, your home is actually not that far away as you thought it was. The truth is that you carry the important parts of it around with you—all the time, in your mind.
Don't think of this as a poem, then. Think of it as a homesickness cure. When you start to miss your blankie and teddy bear, just take two readings of this poem. You'll be right at home in no time.
A Literary Life
Find out all about the ups and downs of Browning's career right here.
Browning n' Serve
This site provides a shorter bio, plus links to many of our guy's works.
The great Victorian Web provides a ton of great Browning-related info.
See a Reading
We know it sounds weird, but this is a behind-the-scenes look at a dramatic reading.
A Moving Backdrop
This video offers up some patriotic video accompaniment.
Young Prodigies, or Creepy Poet-Kids?
You be the judge.
Enjoy a nice view of an English meadow while you listen to this reading.
This reading provides words so that you can follow along.
Clifford T. Who?
We're pretty sure this is not what Browning had in mind.
Young Bobbie B.
Here he is, rocking the Abe Lincoln beard.
We like this beard better. How about you?
Old Mr. Browning
Here he is, still steely-eyed and refined.
"Pedestaled in Triumph: Robert Browning in Italy"
Want to learn more about Browning's time in Italy? Click away.
"Robert Browning Deserves a Little Fuss"
The title pretty much sums up the article's argument.
Browning's Complete Poetical Works
Get 'em all right here.
Everyman's Library Edition
Looking for just the hits? Try this.