Monday, January 31, 2011

Tuesday Poem - Adlestrop - 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 moment a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.

This Tuesday I will go for the bleeding, blinding obvious and post one of my favourite poems. I typed it out and as I did I pondered how the poet had used his devices. The capital letter at the beginning of the line, when he used a run on and when he didn't. And his rhymes. Just your usual sort of rhyme – afternoon/June came/name dry/sky until he hits you with mistier/Gloucestershire.

Couple of pics of Adlestrop then and now. It is one of those places to which I would like to make a pilgrimage. This poem gave me the idea of taking a place and 'glamorising' it by taking a poetic snapshot of it. To bring it into another sort of existence. I think the reason I like this poem so much is because it is archival. I am a sucker for delving in the archives. But although it jerks and flickers a little, and it is very much of its time, I can also be right there in that moment so long ago. I can't find out when it was written but it was pre 1917, when Edward Thomas was killed in action at the Battle of Arras (at the age of 37 if I remember right). I feel as if I know this poem completely, in all its intents. But the only thing I can't know is how I would have reacted to it if I had read it when it was first written. Would it have seemed odd and fey to me, would it have passed over my head or under my radar? One other thing - if you consider, as I do, a poem to be a conversation with other poems, then I am continually conversing with this poem. I reference it a lot. The spreading soundscape, the atonal rhyme. And in a recent poem about the train station called Alamein here in Melbourne, I go so far as to write - “I was the only person who got off here. And nobody got on.” A direct homage. But I wonder how many people know this poem these days. I wonder if anyone will get it. Anyway, this poem is very close to my heart and it emboldens me every time I read it.


  1. Jennifer, oh, how I love this poem, always have loved its plangency, that line like a prayer "Yes, I remember Adlestrop' so much melancholy in it. And the glory of that blackbird singing, like a phoenix rising from the meadow, and how beautifully it opens up 'farther and farther all the birds/ of Oxfordshire and Gloucestshire'. Edward Thomas makes Adlestrop a mythic place, somehow lost by human agency, and utterly unforgettable, haunting. And thank you for your fine explication/explanation paean to this poem and Thomas's facility.

  2. I, too, have always loved this poem, Jennifer, feeling that it has a traditional elegiac quality that is lifted into something else by the final couplet--all those birds singing in a triumph of living!

  3. Jen, this is so exciting to be introduced to this poem via your mind - what you love about it, how it informs your work. I love the heat, the hissing from the throat of the train, the cleared throat from an unseen person, the silence, the no-one, and then the birds like a choir at the end. Wonderful.

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