A Poem about Awareness

The writer of this poem, Edward Thomas, was killed in action during World War I.

Adlestrop is a small village in Gloucestershire. The railway station was ‘Beechinged’ out of existence in 1966.

The poem starts with the writer imagining he’s in conversation with you the reader, and you’ve asked him if he’s acquainted with the village of Adlestrop. He’s never actually been in the village, but its name, on its railway station sign, has stayed in his memory. He’d been travelling to a destination he was in a hurry to get to, and so  he’d chosen “the express-train” for his journey.

Unwontedly“, however, the train came to a sudden halt. Trains usually seem to do their unexpected stoppings between stations – ‘in the middle of nowhere’, we’d probably say. Instead of nowhere, however, Adlestrop suddenly emerged for a brief ‘moment in the sun’. “It was late June,” and the writer became aware of the feeling of warmth. Perhaps the sun was shining through the carriage window. Then he became aware of hearing a couple of sounds. “The steam hissed” and “someone cleared his throat“. That person was unseen, and perhaps the writer became aware of being on his own. There’s no mention of anyone else in his carriage, and “no one left and no one came on the bare platform“.

Next, the writer became aware of seeing, beyond the signpost, the surrounding trees, plants, grass and flowers and, further beyond, the “haycocks dry” in neighbouring fields. His awareness then extended upwards to the “high cloudlets in the sky“, each one of which he felt to be “lonely” – like himself, perhaps, in his railway carriage next to the empty platform. He became aware of how “still” the cloudlets were and suddenly, in that stillness, “a blackbird sang“, and all at once any loneliness had gone. He began to hear the songs of other birds, some “close by” but then others, “further and further” and “mistier“, who filled the skies, trees and hedgerows of “Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.” And why stop there?

Our daily lives too often can be like an “express train”, in our ongoing hurry to get to wherever we think we need to be. In that hurry, we can constantly be passing things by. We don’t stop and get properly into them – just giving them little more than a nod in the passing. Sometimes, however, our ‘train’ can stop unexpectedly, for whatever reason. We can choose to see this as a disaster, or as an opportunity.

It can be an opportunity to be still, to become aware, but not of what we’re thinking. Thinking can so easily become a noise that drowns other things out. If we’re still, we can become aware of what we’re feeling, and seeing, and hearing in that moment. And it we stick with it, that awareness can begin to expand. We can begin to experience what the poet John Donne said : “No (person) is an island entire of itself; every (person) is .. a part of the main”. 

Every point of stillness can be, for us, a centre of the universe, and from where we are, we can feel ourselves to be interlinked with everyone and everything else, not just in Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire, but everywhere. We need to get into the habit of ourselves stopping our ‘express-train’, and learning to appreciate whichever Adlestrop we find ourselves in, and onwards and outwards from there. And as we experience this inter-connectedness and one-ness, we begin to see the deepest reason for love and compassion, rather than indifference and hate, towards our fellow beings, human and otherwise.  

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