This much loved poem was written by Edward Thomas in 1915 in the trenches, looking back to an unremarkable incident that had happened in June 1914. What had been a trivial event is turned by hindsight, which then had no notion of the horror that was to come, into a glowing symbol of lost peace. Is there a lesson here for us too? You might have thought that the coming catastrophe that is so likely to engulf us all would have been obvious to a blind man, but most people, unfortunately, are so blind they adamantly will not take the decisive actions that even now could avert it. Extreme climate events are becoming more and more frequent. The iconic 400 ppm of carbon in the atmosphere, which even the gloomiest doom sayers thought would not be passed until 2015 at the earliest, was already reached in May 2013. The ice caps are melting far faster than had been anticipated. Already in the US desperate farmers are battling giant 6 foot horse tail weeds resistant to both Roundup and, since GM strengthened their resistance, to ordinary pesticides. The wars in Syria, the Congo and Sudan are foretastes of how terrible twenty first century resource wars could be, should they ever come. Will we look back on these years of peace with nostalgia, as Thomas looked back at the train stopping at Adlestrop?
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 meadow-sweet, 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.