Following on from the “Bathtime Reading” of my last post, I am now in danger of giving the impression that I spend most of my time luxuriating in a warm bath; but the bathtime theme of my poem “Cricket at Adlestrop” is purely coincidental.
Edward Thomas’s poem “Adlestrop” invariably features in listings of the most popular English poems. It is a pastoral vision of the countryside and, simultaneously, a moment in time, captured with perfect clarity. One can see the steam-train, idling at the “bare platform”; hear the birds singing. An inbuilt feeling of nostalgia is deepened by our knowledge that Thomas was killed at Arras in 1917. My pastiche is meant as a humorous, oblique tribute. The world it hints at is that of a multi-ethnic modern city; far away from the rural railway station of the original.
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. Some one 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 around him, mistier,
farther and farther, all the birds
of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.
And my version:
Cricket at Adlestrop:
Yes, I remember the result.
It was the hottest day
of the year. I sweltered
in a hot bath – illogically.
The radio crackled. The soap
slipped through my hands
into foam-filled water
while I changed wavebands.
What I heard
was Bangladesh – only the name
of the winning team. Australia,
incredibly, had lost the game.
And for that minute a car horn blared
close by, then a louder
claxon, and another. All the cars
of all the Bangladeshis of Peterborough.