Home-Thoughts from Abroad By Robert Browning

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!

It seems appropriate to start this, our final book, with the poem that inspired the name of our blog that led to these books. Robert Browning has long been a favourite, and his poem, “Home Thoughts From Abroad” captures the longing for the familiar places of home of all of us who have been overseas for extended periods of time. Our attempts to capture the joy and excitement we felt in travel with the sometime anguished desire just to be among family and friends is what led us to blogging in the first place. It was our effort at connection; our desire to make what we were doing and why we felt called to this life understandable to our children, our grandchildren, and the friends who have supported us with their prayers and their caring for these many years.

Now we are reaching the end of this journey. We have told ourselves that this will be the last posting we accept; that after we have finished our two-year commitment to our present mission in Horsham, we will return to Canada for good. That doesn’t mean we will stop serving the Lord. But it does mean that we will stop doing so in foreign locations.

It is fitting that our last overseas venture be in England, where both our families are from. I was actually born in England, in Colchester, not far from where we are presently living. I have a sister in Lincolnshire and a cousin in Kent, and once we are properly settled with a car and a bank account, we will visit them both. My parents retired to England as well, and we have often visited them in Lincoln and are well familiar with that part of the country. My first overseas visit when I was 11 years old was to my grandmother, at that time still feisty and living by herself in Dollis Hill, not far from Wimbledon.  

England has other resonances for me as well through literature, and not just Robert Browning. I grew up on the tales of Horatio Hornblower, E.M. Forster’s fictionalized stories about Lord Nelson. Throughout my teaching career I have saturated myself with the works of Dickens and Shakespeare, Tennyson and Blake. I have immersed myself in the paintings of Constable and Turner, and the music and clothing of the sixties when I grew up was all from England.

So living in England, while not a homecoming, does have a poignancy and significance that other places we have lived abroad have not. I shall enjoy its quiet country lanes and remote peaks and parks as much as I will the busy cities and streets that crowd this island. We hope to capture some of those experiences in this journal, and trust that many of you, either now on this site, or later when this is committed to a book, will find in these pages something that speaks to your heart as well.

We are all, in one way or another, travelers in this life; citizens of another country beyond sight, but visible through the eyes of faith. The two of us have served the Lord of that country as well as we are able throughout our marriage. If this be our last overseas posting for Him, we cannot think of a finer place.