A poem and a piece of music.
‘On this spot fifty years ago … absolutely nothing happened’. So read a plaque I once encountered on a North Devon walk. The same could be said about the subject of one the nations favourite poems ‘Adlestrop’ by Edward Thomas.
The origins of the poem took place on 24 June 1914, while Thomas was returning home after visiting his Poet friend Robert Frost. Travelling on the Oxford to Worcester express train, the train made an unscheduled stop at Adlestrop in Gloucestershire, a tiny village in the Cotswolds with a population of just over 100. The poem focuses on what is a complete ‘non- event’. ‘No-one left, no-one came.’ And Thomas never got to see further than the station platform. A station that no longer exists.
And therein I think lies the point of this poem and why it remains so deeply rooted in hearts and minds. In its understated way it expresses an idyllic and innocent way of life that would be forever lost. Thomas’ deep appreciation of nature (meadowsweet means mead wort) and attention to detail shapes the poem. But there is more. This ‘non event’ took place 6 weeks before the outbreak of the First World War. The world described by Thomas would change dramatically and forever. A war that would claim millions of young lives including that of Thomas. The train, a potent symbol of a world increasingly shaped by mobility and commerce stops and all is hushed, apart from the natural order. As we look back on this strange time will it be like the train making an unscheduled stop and the sounds of creation being freshly heard and imbibed afresh. An encouragement to root our lives as human beings more in being still, listening and slowing down. The BBC correspondent John Simpson commented that reading this poem after witnessing the bloodshed and turmoil of the Chinese Tiananmen Square massacre brought comfort and hope.
“The gentleness of it … lifted me out of my fear and exhaustion and sorrow and opened up a calmer universe.’
Geoffrey Palmer reads this poem accompanied by Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending. Like the poem, this piece of music is rooted in the emerging darkness and confusion of the First World War.
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.
You may want to follow this by listening to the whole of Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending