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Proximity between nature & society I: Edward Thomas's "Adlestrop"

 

“Adlestrop” (Edward Thomas, 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.

5

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,

10

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

15
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.  

 

In Edward Thomas’ “Adlestrop” (1917), we can see one of the few examples in which nature and society, rather than oppose each other, co-exist in harmony. The first two stanzas, with their halting rhythm and emphasis on solitude, emphasize the contrast between the persona and the absence of society:

 

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.

5

No one left and no one came

 

On the bare platform. What I saw

 

Was Adlestrop -- only the name

 

 

Lines 5-7 insists on the social dimension, curiously by denying its presence: present is only “the steam” and an unspecified “someone” (5). The normal to and fro of a train station, which implies the existence of a group of people, hence society, is evoked through denial via the repeated use of “no one” (6) and the reference to the “bare platform” (7). This absence of society emphasises the loneliness of the individual I who is looking at the scene.

 

In contrast, the next stanza stresses the presence of nature via an accumulation of herbs:

 

And willows, willow-herb, and grass,

 

And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,

10

No whit less still and lonely fair

 

Than the high cloudlets in the sky.

 

 

Unlike society, which is absent, nature is overpresent. This presence of nature offers a stark contrast with the absence of the social in stanza two, and in a way, opposes nature and society in traditional ways. Seen from another perspective, however, the frustrated expectation of social plenty in stanza two is fulfilled in stanza three through the accumulation of herbs (9-11). The rhythmic expansion that accompanies the list of herbs makes that experience an unmistakeably positive one.

Something very similar happens in the final stanza:

 

And for that minute a blackbird sang

 

Close by, and round him, mistier,

 

Farther and farther, all the birds

15
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.  

 

Here it is the song of blackbirds which multiplies. Nature is again associated to joyful plenty – emphasised in this case through repetition and, a progressive spacing out of the initially packed caesuras, and further play with sound and polysyllabic words.

This fulfilled promise of joyful plenty suggests a nature which is not opposed to the social dimension, but offers precisely what we expect society to offer (such an interpretation gains further strength through the reference to the social category of “shire” in the last line of the poem)