7 Oct 2014


When I was at school one of the texts for English was the very popular poem by Edward Thomas- titled Adlestrop
It describes a stop of a train at a small station in a very rural part of England.It is a simple poem but it is beautifully told.......

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. 

If you would like to hear a beautiful reading of Adlestrop by Richard Burton click onto ADELSTROP

In contrast there is an appalling reading of the poem on a US poetry website -by a female who obviously specialises in mispronunciation.Her grating accent for this very English poem combined with horrible mispronunciation- she makes Adlestrop sound like a town you would find in Idaho-and her total lack of empathy with what she is reading is enough to make you never want to read the poem again.She sounds just like the dismembered voice on my Tom Tom GPS.What were they thinking? Hear it for yourself on NOT ADELSTROP

  The poem was written in July 1914 just weeks before the outbreak of the first world war which claimed the life of Thomas in 1917.So it has just passed its 100th anniversary.Much of the popularity of the poem is due to the fact that it Is so evocative of the last days of an age of innocence -an England and a time which was lost in the horrors of the war to end all wars.And is there are more typical English rural village name than Adelstrop?

For me the poem conjures up images of hot days of summer in my childhood and train journeys through the English countryside.In 1964 just a few years after studying the poem I was on a train on a cross country line from Reading to Dorking in Surrey.It was a very warm July day and the train was just three carriages long and pulled by a small steam engine.There were very few passengers and the train meandered through the beautiful countryside of Surrey-no M25 motorway and industrial estates and ugly station car parks then- and we pulled into one charming country station which overlooked open fields.
 I can vividly remember leaning out of the window -you lowered the window by adjusting a thick leather strap which fitted over a brass fitting on the carriage door- and seeing the well kept flower beds on the platform and the stationmaster in his uniform and wearing his railway cap coming out to greet the train and no one got on or off and so the guard blew his whistle and waved his green flag and the little engine gave a toot and away we went and I thought of Adlestrop.

Now in the poem Thomas states that his train stopped at Adlestrop "untowardly" - implying that it was not scheduled to stop there - but researchers have found that the railway timetable for that year clearly shows Adlestrop as a stop.So Thomas either did not realise that the stop was scheduled or he used some artistic licence. 

In 1962 the British Government appointed a Dr Beeching to undertake a rationalisation study of Britain's rambling and very extensive rail network and in 1963 he recommended axing many lines and stations.The cuts were savage and many beautiful lines and stations were closed and indeed obliterated including sadly Adlestrop.The main line survived but the station was totally demolished.Not even a name sign survived.Rather surprisingly the line I remembered, the Reading to Reigate line, survived Dr Beeching's axe and is still in use today although the little steam engine is, of course, long since gone.

All this came back to me when Roger Putnam in the UK sent me a beautiful photo of a narrow boat on the Stratford on Avon canal in the UK.The photo was taken just last month but it could well be 1914.The old man on the boat looks as if he is straight from 1914.The photo although modern evokes that simpler and more innocent time and the name of the boat "Remembrance" is appropriate.
Thanks for a very well framed photo Roger and for triggering some very pleasant bucolic memories.The photo was taken on a Sony a7 using a Leica Vario-Elmarit lens.

1 comment:

  1. Dear John,

    Congratulations! You are now officially an old curmudgeon; welcome to our lot and lair.

    With best regards,