On 24 June 1914, a passenger on the 10.20 from Paddington to Malvern recorded in his journal how the train made an unexpected stop at a sleepy station. This unimportant event later became the inspiration for one of the nation’s most loved poems. The passenger was Edward Thomas and the station was Adlestrop.
Thomas was a respected writer in 1914 but not, surprisingly, of poetry. Instead he was the author of travel books and literary criticism. He was struggling to support a young family and yet explore his creative potential. He met the American poet Robert Frost at the Poetry Bookshop in London, the haunt of the Georgian Poets. Thomas felt that he did not belong in such company but Frost soon showed him how wrong he was. With Frost’s encouragement, Thomas began to convert his prose into poetry.
This is Thomas’s diary entry for 24/06/1914:
Then we stopped at Adlestrop, thro the willows cd be heard a chain of blackbirds songs at 12.45 & one thrush & no man seen, only a hiss of engine letting off steam. Stopping outside Campden by banks of long grass willow herb & meadowsweet, extraordinary silence between the two periods of travel – looking out on grey dry stones between metals & the shiny metals & over it all the elms willows & long grass – one man clears his throat – and a greater rustic silence. No house in view. Stop only for a minute till signal is up.
You can read the poem at http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/239742.
As part of the Oxford Home Schooling IGCSE English Language course, we study the relationship between poetry and prose and look in detail at Thomas’s work, exploring how he turned his notes into verse and, in doing so, created one of the most popular poems in the English language.
Thomas, it is clear, had an innate talent which, with support, could be honed and developed. However, on the 9th April 1917 he was killed by a shell as he stood outside to light his pipe during the Battle of Arras.