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Visiting a Village That a Poem Memorialized

It has long been a favorite poem -- and not, of course, only of mine. This is it:


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Yes. I remember Adlestrop

The name, because one afternoon

Of heat the express-train drew up there

Unwontedly. It was late June.

The steam hiss'd. Some one clear'd his throat.

No one left and no one came

On the bare platform. What I saw

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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 ''Adlestrop'' of Edward Thomas's poem is not the old-worldly and cozy village in the English Cotswolds that holds the name still as its own -- the village that is proud in its own memorializing way of the fact that its name has been given this poignant perpetuity by 16 lines of poetry written before World War I, the village that shows its pride by today having the words on display in its bus shelter.

Nor is Thomas's ''Adlestrop'' any longer the name on the railway station his poem recollects. The station has long gone, axed by politics and accountancy.

I was glad, when I visited it for the first and last time recently (I will not return), that it was with someone who had not previously heard of or read the poem. After asking a nice lady in the village for directions that even then we followed with difficulty, we climbed a gate and walked through the dusty autumn weeds and reached the detritus -- the barbed wire, the oil drums, the dumped indescribable waste. Even then we were not certain this was where the platform had actually been. The complete anticlimax was not going to be celebrated in front of this other person by public grief. Even private sadness was unfelt in this unfeeling backwater where nothing, nothing at all, bore the slightest connection with those 16 lines.

Wry puzzlement only.

And perhaps a relief, after all, that at least no one had attempted to turn this lost place into some prettified or solemn tourist attraction. It would certainly have been worse not to have been spared such a tribute.

I listened for a while for birds.

The grinding road traffic over the bridge was more audible. No steam hissed. No throat was cleared.

I looked for my image, out of the words, of all the fields that should even now stretch out, surely, from this forsaken and dingy spot -- over all of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire, those long and ponderous-named counties. There was no hint of their existence.

This was not the place. Was not a place at all. This was not ''Adlestrop.'' No. I forget Adlestrop.... But the words of the poem are unchanged. The sound and sight of the poem resound as they always do. And as purely in the mind.

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