Friday, March 24, 2006

Adlestrop - Edward Thomas

Borrowing the idea of Kelly at Big A, little a of a poetry Friday (which will not necessarily become a regular occurence here, although I've shared poems here before), I want to share one of my favourite of Edward Thomas' poems with you.


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 or 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.

I remember looking for Adlestrop on a large map of Oxfordshire (which also showed the Gloucestershire border) in the early hours of the morning back in 1989 or 1990. I was doing my computing degree here in Oxford and my landlady had been taken ill in the middle of the night; there was an ambulance strike on, so we were rushed to the local hospital in a large police van (rather surreal). Whilst I waited for some news of Miss Clarke, I wandered randomly up and down the corridor (not having had time to pick up a book before rushing out of the house). I spotted the map of Oxfordshire and was reminded of Thomas' poem, so I spent a heedless ten minutes or so searching up and down the border between Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire until I found Adlestrop. Then I recited the poem to myself under my breath...

Thomas was a friend of Robert Frost and was encouraged by Frost to move to America with him; the pair were living in Dymock, a small Gloucestershire village made famous by the group known as the Dymock Poets, who lived there... In December 1914, encouraged by Frost, Thomas began writing poetry; the following June he enlisted in the army, after turning down Frost's invitation to move to America. On Easter Monday, April 9, 1917, the first day of the Battle of Arras opened with a huge artillery bombardment. At 7.30 am, Edward Thomas, who was standing at the Beaurains Observation Post, was killed by the blast of a shell which exploded nearby. His body was found to be unmarked when it was recovered.

Thomas' poetry was the first by a poet of the First World War that I ever read. Having lived most of my life in the Cotswold Hills of Gloucestershire, and loving Oxfordshire as well, Adlestrop is particularly special for me.


Kelly said...

What a beautiful, powerful poem, Michele, and a great story. Thanks!

Michele said...

You're welcome. It is a lovely poem, isn't it ? But all Edward Thomas' poems are lovely - he was a real "nature" poet, wrote about the England that he loved and spent so much time tramping around. It was his love of England (in terms of its countryside) that sent him off to fight in the war at the age of 36.

Looking for Adlestrop was a way to distract me from worrying about my landlady (of whom I was fond and with whom I remained in touch until she died a couple of years ago).