by Edward Thomas
First published 1917
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.
observations: It was National Poetry Day yesterday, so here’s a slightly late contribution. (There is absolutely no clothes connection whatsoever.) Recently I achieved a very long-standing ambition and visited the village of Adlestrop – hence the photograph.
The railway halt is long gone, but the sign was saved, and a bench from the platform, and they can now be found in the local bus shelter, along with a copy of the poem. The village is very quiet and beautiful, and you can hear the blackbirds singing.
Our reaction to it must always be affected by the fact that the railway journey took place in 1914, the poem was written in 1915, and it was first published in 1917, the year Thomas was killed in the First World War. And one can guess that many of the men in the carriage with Thomas will have died too.
It is one of those poems that live in your mind once you are familiar with it, and anything can call it to the forefront: trains, stations, birds, silence.
Apparently this is the third most requested poem on the BBC Radio 4 programme Poetry Please.
There is a fascinating podcast on the poem at the National Archives, where it is helpfully explained that the stop wasn’t truly ‘unwonted’…
With thanks to Karen Murtagh for the photo.