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.
This is just gorgeous: one of the most anthologised poems in the world which usually turns me right off but so beautifully enigmatic and poignant and elegant. And terribly British.
It was only recently I learned that Thomas’ wife was actually with him and opposite him on this journey and “unwonted” stop. You’d never know! Yes, Thomas may have remembered Adlestrop but he’s completely excised his wife from that memory!
The remembrance is what makes the poem so poignant: barely anything of the world being described exists any more: the steam train has been eclipsed; the railway line shut down; the serenity of that world destroyed by two world wars; the last weeks before Thomas enlisted.
There’s a lovely insight into a very troubled mind here: Thomas’ passivity on the train and lack of comprehension at the stop; his discomfort amongst the other passengers. The short sentences, enjambment and caesurae in the first two stanzas suddenly give way to a beautiful recitation of the unfolding landscape in an undulating and almost religious litany. I may not be able to picture half the plants he cites but I am entranced by the recitation! And in the middle of this luscious countryside the trilling of the blackbird.
The word that I think is at the heart of this poem is the “mistier” of the final stanza: the enigmatic nature of these echoing songs, reportedly from far further afield than Thomas could ever have actually heard, is captured in the synaesthesia of the adjective.
Somewhere in here is a very British, sublime moment: quiet, understated and exceptionally beautiful. May we all share a moment like this!