Adlestrop by Edward Thomas
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.
One hundred years ago, on 9 April, poet Edward Thomas died. Thomas made a name for himself as an essayist, literary critic and poet, before he became a soldier. Thomas was a friend of American poet Robert Frost. When the two men enjoyed walks together in the English countryside, Frost teased Thomas about dithering over which path to choose when there was more than one. Frost sent Thomas an advance copy of The Road Not Taken and Thomas, taking the joking message of the poem seriously, made the fateful decision to enlist. He was a married man in his mid 30s, and did not have to fight, but he went off to serve with the Royal Garrison Artillery. He was killed in action soon after, and was buried in a war graves cemetery in northern France.
His poem Adlestrop is a memory of a soldier on a troop train which makes an unscheduled stop at a tiny Gloucestershire village station. The natural world is wonderfully evoked – smells, sounds, sights. This is the England that the soldiers will be fighting to preserve – an England of rural beauty. Society is excluded from the poem ? “no one left and no one came”, but that allows the poet to fully appreciate all that nature offers.
The poem begins with the word ‘Yes’, as if he is answering a question or pulling an event from the depths of his memory. This opening creates an immediate relationship with the reader, and he then goes on to talk about that very English subject, the weather. There’s a conversational tone, a feeling of intimacy. The relaxed tone almost allows us to forget that the train holds young men who might be making their final journey.
The poem captures the essence of England – quaint train stations, county names, an unusual village name, blackbirds and meadowsweet. This is what he identifies with, and this of course is what he will most miss on the terrible battlefields of France. The wonderful harmony he feels with nature at Adlestrop, will soon be so rudely shattered – the birds will not be singing, and the heat will be of battle rather than that of a June afternoon.
You can still visit Adlestrop, but you cannot travel there by train as the station was closed in 1966. The station sign was saved and is on display in the village today, with words from the poem on a public bench. Edward Thomas never saw his poem in print, but its 16 poignant, beautiful lines give a slightly different view of World War I.
Listen to this gorgeous reading of the poem by Richard Burton.
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