Adlestrop – Edward Thomas – Comments


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.

Edward Thomas (1878 – 1917)

It was as though the train stopped on purpose so that all the passengers good savour an early summer day when the world itself seemed to stop and all was peace. The joy of nature showing contentment voiced in the beautiful birdsong of the English countryside. It is moments like these, unexpected moments of joy, that become so meaningful when we reflect back. I think we all have such images that retain lifelong pleasure on recall.

It is a very simple four stanza poem with rhyming in the second and fourth lines. The short factual statements are all that is needed in defining the essence of the moment as experienced by the traveller as he looks out the window. The text ‘And for that minute’ is pivotal in holding the image in the eye of the reader.

And of course many will relate to the experience of a train stopping before reaching the destination but whether thay will be relaxed about it is another matter.

Edward Thomas will be remembered by this poem more than any other just as Adlestrop will always be associated with this poem. An example of how a poem can define a specific place due to experience. Adlestrop was axed in the Beeching cull of railway stations in the Sixties as were many other sleepy country stations. However the railway sign displaying the name is still very much in evidence.

And from Wikipedia …  it was due to Edward Thomas that Robert Frost came to write his famous poem ‘The Road Not Taken’

The American poet Robert Frost, who was living in England at the time, in particular encouraged Thomas (then more famous as a critic) to write poetry, and their friendship was so close that the two planned to reside side by side in the United States. Frost’s most famous poem, “The Road Not Taken”, was inspired by walks with Thomas and Thomas’s indecisiveness about which route to take.

Tragically Edward Thomas was killed soon after he arrived in France during the first World War.

And more details of Edward Thomas via Wikipedia 

Originally – Carol Ann Duffy – Analysis


We came from our own country in a red room
Which fell through the fields, our mother singing
our father’s name to the turn of the wheels.
My brothers cried, one of them bawling, Home,
Home, as the miles rushed back to the city,
the street, the house, the vacant rooms
where we didn’t live any more. I stared
at the eyes of a blind toy, holding its paw.

All childhood is an emigration. Some are slow,
leaving you standing, resigned, up an avenue
where no one you know stays. Others are sudden.
Your accent wrong. Corners, which seem familiar,
leading to unimagined pebble-dashed estates, big boys
eating worms and shouting words you don’t understand.
My parents’ anxiety stirred like a loose tooth
in my head. I want our own country, I said.

But then you forget, or don’t recall, or change,
and, seeing your brother swallow a slug, feel only
a skelf of shame. I remember my tongue
shedding its skin like a snake, my voice
in the classroom sounding just like the rest. Do I only think
I lost a river, culture, speech, sense of first space
and the right place? Now, Where do you come from?
strangers ask. Originally? And I hesitate.

Carol Ann Duffy

A poem about being asked this question … ‘where do you come from originally?’ … obviously you are now in another place. But being asked that question you have to give the questioner your own personal response to your original home place … and of course this may be many locations back depending on the extent of relocation in your life coupled with the time lapse of how long ago it was that you were back home in that original location.

This poem is the first poem in the book ‘The Other Country’. Arguably the first poem in a book is usually a key poem to entice readers to delve further. In similar regard the first stanza of that poem is most important.

For this Post I am going to look at that first stanza in the context of having read the whole poem enabling greater contextual background which might empower the text to greater understanding. That first line is so important too and the words ‘red room’ catch the reader into a bit of a thought puzzle. Here are my thoughts …

The poem is about the grief of a child in leaving their first home in the city to a place in the country. And the child remembers that time dearly and the journey is by car. The child is in a ‘red room’ so it could be reference to a red car. A child’s room in a house is very important to that child. Her new home in transit as she rides with her parents could in fact refer to the space in the car. ‘Red’ is a highly emotive colour for example a colour which promotes anger in a bull. The car is also ‘falling’ ‘through the fields as it travels personifying grieve.

Quite clearly there is great contrast between the emotional state of the child and the joy expressed by her mother as the mother sings to the tune of her husband’s turning wheels.

The child’s brothers appear to be younger but in great sympathy. And the contrast is again highlighted by the bawl of the brothers against the song of the mother. The brothers to not actually say ‘home, home’ – the ‘bawl, bawl’ states this meaning through these cries.

Although the car is travelling away from the city – in the eyes of the children each mile away is a mile back to their original home. Back to the city, back to the street, back to their original home and back to their precious first rooms. The rooms are now vacant which adds poignancy. Again there is great contrast in the two directions associated with the change of location. Joy in one direction sorrow in another.

It appears the child has something in her hands in the car to remind her of her room. She is holding the ‘paw’ (hand) of her precious mute toy-friend. A friend that is ‘blind’ to the predicament of the journey.

This poem gives reinforcement on why Carol Ann Duffy is such an eminent poet in the minds of many readers and gives authority to CAD in being chosen as the UK Poet Laureate in 2009.

Some more questions that you may be hesitant to contemplate – Where do you come from originally? and How does your current mind create the image of that past place?  How does it differ from the actual reality of that original first experience?

Carol Ann Duffy on Wikipedia

IPSI Festival Canberra – Poetry and Place – Simon Armitage

The International Poetry Studies Institute (IPSI) is part of the Centre for Creative and Cultural Research in the Arts and Design Faculty of Canberra University.

Last week (6-16 Sept 2016) IPSI was host to a Festival entitled ‘Poetry on the Move’. And poetry is certainly on the move in Canberra in an upward direction. There were quite a variety of sessions including launches, readings, workshops and lectures.

There were two international poets in residence for the Festival – Simon Armitage from the UK and Tusiata Avia a Samoan-New Zealand poet.

For this post I will concentrate on the keynote lecture given by Simon Armitage (Professor of Poetry at Sheffield University, and last year appointed Professor of Poetry at Oxford – a part-time position.)

His topic was Poetry and Place. The first-up poem he chose to demonstrate the link was the Ted Hughes poem – ‘Full Moon and Little Frieda’.

Full Moon and Little Frieda

A cool small evening shrunk to a dog bark and the clank of a bucket –
And you listening.
A spider’s web, tense for the dew’s touch.
A pail lifted, still and brimming – mirror
To tempt a first star to a tremor.

Cows are going home in the lane there, looping the hedges with their warm
wreaths of breath –
A dark river of blood, many boulders,
Balancing unspilled milk.
‘Moon!’ you cry suddenly, ‘Moon! Moon!’

The moon has stepped back like an artist gazing amazed at a work
That points at him amazed.

Ted Hughes

I was interested in the key word that SA chose in relation to ‘place’. It was the word ‘there’ in that long first line in the second stanza.

There’ telescopes the mind to a distinct familiar place – familiar to the poet Ted Hughes. TH wrote this poem at ‘Court Green’, Devon. If you are familiar with the English countryside and the narrow lanes and if you have experienced waiting for a long line of cows to wind their way to a place of milking you can readily visualise a specific place akin to that described.

If a poet knows a place intimately then description is authentic and, as in this poem, if personal detail is involved more attention is likely in the construction. That instance in the yard involving TH and Frieda is caught as a lasting memory of a valued moment between a father and the toddler daughter. Apparently Sylvia Plath had a liking for this text as she had kept the manuscript and it was in her flat at the time of her death.

I have discussed this poem in more detail in a previous post, which includes comments from Andrew Motion …

A link to Canberra University and IPSI …

A link to Simon Armitage’s ‘Poetry and Place’ lecture will appear on the IPSI journal website …