Adlestrop by Edward Thomas

Adlestrop is based on a very specific and short event in the poet’s life. It describes an occasion when he was taking the train between Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire and the train had to make an unscheduled stop. Due to this stop, he had some time to reflect and enjoyed an unexpected serene moment where his senses were placated by the natural world. Drawing on the natural world in this manner is somewhat a hallmark of the poetry of Thomas. He uses it to great effect in this poem as he creates a visceral picture of the area in which his train has stopped.

Adlestrop by Edward Thomas

 

Form and Tone

Adlestrop is a reflective, peaceful poem. It is almost certainly autobiographical in nature. It is written in free verse and presented in four stanzas each containing four lines. There is a consistent rhyming pattern where the 2nd and fourth line of each stanza ends in a rhyme. This helps to give the poem a gentle feel which is thematically appropriate given the poem’s lilting content. The poem could be classed as romantic in style due to its reflection on the natural world. The poem acts as a snapshot of a small and seemingly insignificant moment in Thomas’ life.

 

Adlestrop Analysis

First Stanza

Yes, I remember Adlestrop —
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.

The first line of this first stanza addresses the reader directly and gives it a striking feel. It’s as if he is either answering a question, or more likely recounting a moment in his life. This makes the poem appear to be a story and this approach is unsurprising for somebody who also acted as a novelist. Thomas helps to create a mental picture of what the scene would have looked like by describing it as an afternoon of heat. This gives you an idea of the weather and also helps to set the tone of the poem. He further goes on to say that the train was an express train. Presumably to emphasize the fact that he was looking for a direct route and didn’t really want to be hanging around. Perhaps that he was frustrated by being late? This notion is further supported by the first word of the fourth line: “Unwontedly” Although this poem ends in a blissful and idyllic fashion there are certainly hints at a discordant feel during this first stanza.

 

Second Stanza

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

Thomas once again manages to evoke a very clear image of the surroundings using very few words. This is clever. The first line of this stanza is very much centered on the sound of the event. Whereas we saw in the last stanza more of a description of the physical atmosphere. You could perceive this description to mean that the train was quite noisy. Or is the opposite true. Perhaps there is a dull background noise from the steam and the only accompaniment to that sound is a man clearing his throat? He later goes on to describe how nobody entered or left the train, which is quite obvious really given that from the evidence in the first stanza we can see this is an unscheduled stop for the train. He describes the platform as being bare which is quite a bleak adjective. He then claims the only thing that appears on the platform is the name of the station Adlestrop. What is quite interesting is this station has a Germanic sounding name. Although Thomas has a reputation for being a war poet, this is unlikely to be pertinent to the war and is more than likely to just be a coincidence.

 

Third Stanza

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.

Up until now Thomas hadn’t seemed particularly positive in his comments regarding the train station, seemingly seeing his unscheduled stop as a burden and a chore but that opinion seems to dissipate in this section of the poem as the narrator describes the natural world’s influence on the area he begins by describing the plant life. Listing beautiful plants which paints a serene picture in the mind’s eye. Whereas the narrator had previously explored the sounds and atmosphere this stanza is very visual. Although Thomas does use personification by suggesting the clouds are carefree. Using the phrase “no whit less” effectively means that they couldn’t care less. This promotes the idea of nature being free-spirited. It is interesting how Thomas describes clouds as cloudlets. Does this suggest that there is only a spattering of the cloud? Is this why the clouds are ascribed to being lonely? I would suggest it does. All these images once again help to create an image of what this area is like. Although there is a story being told in many ways it seems like the main character is the scenery itself rather than the narrator who is sat on a train taking everything in.

 

Fourth Stanza

And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.

The first line of this stanza makes it quite clear that the stop at Adlestrop hasn’t been particularly lengthy. In fact, they were only there for a minute. The poet once again calls on images from nature to make his points. It seems he is no longer moaning but instead is impressed by the display that is being put on for him. He creates an image of a grandiose display. I don’t think that he actually believes that all of the birds between Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire are actually singing but it just appears that is what is occurring it’s this hyperbole that lends a sense of majesty to an otherwise dull and at the first frustrating occasion. It is interesting that the poet uses so many place names in the poem this really helps to cement it in a reader’s consciousness giving it a physical position on the map almost gives it more gravitas and makes somehow more believable.

 

About Edward Thomas

Edward Thomas was a British poet and novelist. He wrote during the war and is consequently considered to be a war poet (though this poem is not about war but conversely a moment of great peace and tranquillity.) and ironically this is the case with most of his poetry. He did however serve in the first world war and actually lost his life in the Battle of Arras during World War One. He is a well-remembered poet whose legacy lives on in Great Britain through various plaques and commemorations. Generally, his poem is inspired by romantic poetry and relies heavily on images of the countryside and the occasional use of colloquial language. He released no fewer than ten poetry collections. However, the number of novels he created was considerably fewer, managing just one. Perhaps this number would have been greater had his life not been cut short due to the war.

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  • Avatar Joyce F says:

    “However, the amount of novels he created was considerably less managing just one.”

    Forgive me, I think you mean the NUMBER of novels….considerably FEWER, (comma is also important).

    You use number/fewer when you can actually count the items. Amount/less when you can’t. Hence “The number of books” but “The amount of water”. 🙂

    (But it still sounds awkward. I’d have re-written that sentence.)

    Otherwise, super analysis, thank you.

    • Lee-James Bovey Lee-James Bovey says:

      right you are! Thanks for pointing that out. I’m working on my grammar! 🙂

  • Avatar Gerald Thornhill says:

    I heard this for the first time on the BBC the other day. How come? I am 83! A sad reflection on the education system of my youth, I think.

    • Lee-James Bovey Lee-James Bovey says:

      Maybe, although there are a wealth of classic poems. Most people who get a doctorate in literature would barely cover a fraction of all the poems worthy of study.

    • Avatar Michael says:

      I am 71 and went to school in Rochester Kent. We studied this poem in the 5th form. Recently, and after 50 years, 5 of my school friends and I were reunited. We could still recite most of the poem ….

      • Lee-James Bovey Lee-James Bovey says:

        That’s amazing. What a heartwarming, wholesome story.

  • Avatar Cathy Liz McMillan says:

    There is an air of loneliness and abandonment about this poem. Considering Thomas was a war poet I almost feel that although he is appreciating the nature around him he recalls the stillness and the empty platform. He thinks about those he may lose to nature to the fields perhaps Written in 1914. The clouds are small not joined up and far away..you can’t touch them although they are there alone as scattered and separate.
    Is this how it might be ..friends literally shattered separated and alone ..the sky perhaps the heaven where they will reside. Also the countryside and nature will be shattered in human form and the natural world. The countryside can be a lonely place sometimes far from others…but others are there even if you can’t see them ..I feel that perhaps is why he describes the birds farther away from the one lonesome blackbird. But also the song is reassuring as he is joined in song by all the birds of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.He suffered depression and the one lone blackbird a metaphor for his own loneliness. He may stand alone now one day be together In another where all will sing(be together) in a Heaven perhaps. This is the calm where the world stands still before the horror of War. My personal response and so much more could be in this poem.

    • Lee-James Bovey Lee-James Bovey says:

      Thank you Cathy you display wonderful insight into the poem and it was great you have shared your ideas and thoughts for us. I really think this comment adds something to the understanding of the poem and its themes and meanings.

  • Avatar Pete bickford says:

    I suggest cloudlets probably describes cirrus cloud, which are usually wispy, filamentous and are the highest clouds; typical of a perfect summer’s day in England

    • Lee-James Bovey Lee-James Bovey says:

      Astute observation and a great description of a cloud! You should write poetry!

  • Avatar Christopher Kelk says:

    ‘Adlestrop’ is the first word of the fourth line, not the fourth stanza.

  • Avatar Christopher Kelk says:

    ‘Unwontedly’ is the first word of the fourth line, not the fourth stanza.

    • Lee-James Bovey Lee-James Bovey says:

      Nice spot! I have amended.

  • Avatar K. Wall says:

    Very important to bear in mind that , though Thomas is often catagorised as a war poet, this poem was written before the outbreak of World War One. Also, though technically correct to identify the Germanic root to the name Adlestrop, over a thousand years have passed since the Anglo-Saxon settlements. This place name is quintessentially English. That’s the point of the poem.

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