This week’s choice is Adlestrop by Edward Thomas which is a beautiful evocation of a moment in time.
“What I saw was Adlestrop—only the name”Edward Thomas (1878—1917)
Poem 167. Adlestrop
Yes. I remember Adlestrop—
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.
The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop—only the name
And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.
And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.
This is another poem I discovered years ago, listening to Richard Burton’s mellifluous voice on an old tape cassette player.
It is a simple poem but it describes so much. We stop unexpectedly at a station in the middle of Oxfordshire on a summer’s afternoon in the 1900s. Apart from the sound of the steam escaping from the train’s locomotive, the place is eerily quiet and the observer initially sees only the name of the station: Adlestrop. And then, the mind’s eye opens and we see the grasses and crops in the fields, the white clouds riding high in the sky and over the hissing steam, we hear the song of a blackbird and as if in response, all the other birds of the surrounding countryside.
I like the poem because it brings back memories of Nic and I driving around the Cotswolds on a holiday and arriving at a crossroads in this small village and seeing the old sign from the station at the back of the bus shelter. It was the most surprising thing because we weren’t looking for it but when we found it, the memory of the poem came flooding back.
The sad thing about this poem is that the author, Edward Thomas, wrote it in early 1915 after taking a railway journey the previous year. He enlisted in the army later that year and was killed in action at the Battle of Arras in 1917, just after he arrived in France and just three weeks before the poem was published in the New Statesman. The poem isn’t strictly a war poem but it does make one think of a peaceful and bucolic time prior to the great upheaval of the First World War and all it brought.