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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.