A Series of Near-Hits
We won't lie to you. Form- and meter-wise, this poem is a bit of a mess. We get two well-defined stanzas, but after that the rules basically fly out the window.
That's not to say that this poem is written in conversational free verse. It's not. One reason we can tell is because of all the end rhyming going on here. Let's take a look at how that's working in the first stanza:
Oh, to be in England A
Now that April's there, B
And whoever wakes in England A
Sees, some morning, unaware, B
That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf C
Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf, C
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough D
In England—now! D (1-8)
Each letter there stands for that line's end rhyme. (We're cutting Browning some slack when it comes to rhyming "England" with… "England" in lines 1 and 3.) As a result, we get a rhyme scheme of ABABCCDD.
To find any kind of conventional form working here, we would look for what repeats in this pattern. So let's take a peek at that second stanza:
And after April, when May follows, E
And the whitethroat builds, and all the swallows! E
Hark, where my blossomed pear-tree in the hedge F
Leans to the field and scatters on the clover G
Blossoms and dewdrops—at the bent spray's edge— F
That's the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over, G
Lest you should think he never could recapture H
The first fine careless rapture! H
And though the fields look rough with hoary dew, I
All will be gay when noontide wakes anew I
The buttercups, the little children's dower J
—Far brighter than this gaudy melon-flower! J (9-20)
Do we have a repeat from stanza1? Yeah… not so much. To start with, the stanzas have different lengths. We also have a different combo of end rhymes, with far more rhyming couplets. So while we do have rhyme, there isn't an overall pattern to how it's organized.
Surely we have some kind of organizing principle of meter, though? Yeah, about that… in terms of rhythm, this poem is organized much as it is with the rhyming. We have some repeated patterns, but they aren't regular at all. Check it out the very first line:
Oh, to be in England
We start off in line 1 with three trochees, which are just two-syllable pairs in which the first syllable is stressed and the second one isn't: DUMda. Since we have three in this line, it can be called "trochaic trimeter"—if you feel like getting fancy.
Now how about line 2?
Now that April's there,
Here we just get two and a half trochees, as the last expected unstressed syllable is left off. Normally, we can let that slide—if the rest of the lines keep up this pattern. Do they?
And whoever wakes in England
Sees, some morning, unaware, (3-4)
Much like the case with the rhyme scheme, we have to shake our heads ruefully here. There are some trochees in these next lines—"wakes in England" (DUMda DUMda)—but not in the same neat pattern as lines 1 and 2.
In fact, the meter starts to gallop away:
That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf
Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf, (5-6)
Each line serves up two amphibrach (dadaDUM)-iamb (daDUM) combinations, back to back. As a result, the lines gather a kind of rhythmic energy and intensity.
So is the poem taking off now? Nope. This pattern's quickly followed with:
In England—now! (8)
These two iambs slam on the poem's breaks, totally undercutting those previously energetic lines.
Of course, the big question is: "why?" Was Browning bad at following patterns? Did he just get bored too easily? Or—and this is our take on the matter—was he just trying to recreate that homesick feeling?
Think about it: homesickness is a kind of deep uneasiness. You have trouble getting your feet under you. Everything seems strange and a bit… well, off. The on-again, off-again nature of this poem's form and meter does a good job of creating that effect.
So, if you're having trouble picking out the rhymes and rhythms here—or if you feel yourself missing home—it's not just you. Blame Browning's poem.