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Poem of the Week: Adelstrop Revisited by Alexander McCall Smith

  08 Jun '21   |  Posted by: Birlinn

Travelling on public transport brings with it a particular set of rules and etiquette, and for many, a small silver lining to the past year was the escape from the daily commute. As lockdown lifts and people are choosing to travel around the UK for leisure again, many of us are experiencing the quirks of train travel once more. Our poem of the week is Alecander McCall Smith’s ‘Adelstrop Revisited’ from his collection In A Time of Distance, which muses on some of the peculiarities of rail travel.

Introduction by Alexander McCall Smith

And here is a play on Edward Thomas’s haunting poem, “Adelstrop”, so utterly memorable for its pastoral invocation and the name of the railway siding. This poem deals with the kind of persistent announcements in railway stations that would have been so unnecessary in Thomas’s day: “If you see anything that does not look right, report it”. We know what they mean, but do they really mean this? The poem begins on a note of sympathy for those modern Dantean wraiths, commuters.

Adelstrop Revisited
 Familiar enough to each other,
 After years of silent journeys
 Unaware, though, of who exactly
 Is who, or what brings each
 To this daily shared procession,
 They hear but do not hear
 The official voice announces:
 Should you see anything
 That does not look right,
 Report it. No one does,
 And yet everything, to my eye,
 Looks wrong, and therefore is not right;
 It is not right that people
 Should be indifferent
 To one another; should not know
 Who the other is, nor care, it seems;
 It is not right that so many lives
 Should pass in this way, bound
To a Sisyphean schedule
 Of never-ending travel;
 It is not right, it seems,
 That there should not be time
 To look at the sky, to stop
 And walk slowly and breathe
 The morning air before
 Staleness sets in. None of that
 Looks right; I report it,
 And wait for a response,
 And wait, and all the birds
 Of Oxfordshire return and briefly sing. 
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