Tuesday, May 15, 2012

A Lyrical Pause

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.

This poem by Edward Thomas, written just before the start of the First World War, is extremely well known and may even be one of the nation's favourites (not that I have any finger on the pulse of the nation's taste in poetry). Sometimes it has been used as an exercise in nostalgia: of steam trains, the peace of the countryside and the golden summer before war ripped the european world apart, but that is conflating the time of its composition with its meaning. I like it instead for its timelessness: not being about any era but instead describing those caught moments that I am sure have affected everyone throughout history - those moments when things pause and you are suddenly more aware of your surroundings.

These sort of moments that give me more pleasure than almost all others but they can not be anticipated or planned for. They happen unexpectedly through cracks and cannot be deliberately sought. For me though, running increases the chances of them coming. One of the habits of my pottering long runs along the canal is to stop at the furthest point,  sit on the arm of the lock gate, take a drink and look around. At such times a sense of peace can wash over me. Not always but sometimes. I know I am lucky in the beauty of my surroundings and it is more difficult to imagine such moments on streets of undistinguished housing. But it is not impossible. Anywhere at any time we can see things more clearly.

For one fleeting moment.

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