Tuesday, 30 December 2008

The track less travelled...

Nowadays, when I travel to London on one of Sir Richard Branson’s finest Virgin express trains, the triple glazed, air conditioned Pullman carriages insulate me from the world outside.

Invariably pleasant though the journey is, I can’t help but recall journeys long ago with my family - there was indeed a ‘romance’ to the age of steam.

Little wonder therefore that this poem remains a staunch favourite among poetry groups, evoking as it does a glimpse of rural England in a by gone age.

Adlestrop is a small Gloucestershire village, its station and surrounding landscape inspired one of the best-known poems in the English language, written by Edward Thomas (1878-1917).


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.

The full poem is inscribed on a metal plate attached to the station bench mentioned by Thomas.
Adlestrop station closed in 1966 but the bench was rescued, and installed at the edge of the village, in a bus shelter! The verses are made more poignant by the fact that Thomas didn’t live to see his work published — he died in action during the First World War.

In 1915 Thomas joined the Artist's Rifles and while stationed at Hare Hall Camp in Essex he wrote many of his finest poems. Thomas' unit reached Flanders in early 1917 and he was killed on Easter Monday (April 9th) on the first day of the Battle of Arras.

In 1914 Thomas was introduced to the American poet
Robert Frost who encouraged him to write poetry. Thomas and Frost were part of a group of poets who were living together in the Gloucestershire village of Dymock just before the outbreak of the First World War.

Like his friend Frost, Thomas' poetry employed a simple, understated style that relied heavily upon natural speech patterns.

The village has another claim to literary fame. The writer Jane Austen made several visits to Adlestrop. Her uncle was the rector of the local church and it is believed the house and grounds of Adlestrop Park were the setting for her novel Mansfield Park.


  1. It would be nice to sit there in a still summer evening, read the poem and watch departing trains...and maybe catch one to some other less travelled places.
    Thank you for this post.

  2. Beautiful post! And I love the "willow" bit in the poem. ;^)

  3. How absolutely delightful. The poem. So sad that Thomas had to die so young in war. So sad about all the young that are sent to war by old men sitting behind desks.