Straight on at roundabout

The Owl
January 14, 2014, 10:18 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

The week before last I rode one of my favourite 200k rides –The Poor Student and as it passed near to Adelstrop in Oxfordshire I started trying to remember why I knew the name of this small village.

And then I remembered, Adelstrop is a poem by Edward Thomas, a famous poem that turns up in most anthologies of well-loved English poems.

The poem talks about a moment of surprising stillness in the English countryside.  A passenger on an express train is reflecting on an unscheduled stop at a rural station and in the quiet hears birdsong:

And for that minute a blackbird sang

Close by, and round him, mistier,

Farther and farther, all the birds

Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.

 It’s a verse that could have been written for an audaxer.

There’s a ride that I have done a few times that climbs up Cleve Hill near Cheltenham and,  if you can look away from the road in front for a second you see the rolling hills stretching back to Oxfordshire.  On a still, quiet day, if you dare to stop you can appreciate Thomas’ words.

However, I feel that Thomas wrote another poem that speaks more directly to an audaxer.  Anyone who has arrived, at night at the finish of a long ride will connect with his verse The Owl.

DOWNHILL I came, hungry, and yet not starved,

Cold, yet had heat within me that was proof

Against the north wind; tired, yet so that rest

Had seemed the sweetest thing under a roof.

Thomas wrote about walking in a landscape before the First World War; I understand that the war was one of the things that changed him from a writer of prose to a poet.  However anyone who has been out all day will recognise that feeling of arrival.  Finishing not yet exhausted but ready for the relief of sitting with cup of tea or a bowl of soup.

Last May, I organised a 400K ride and worked through the night welcoming back riders who had struggled with a headwind through the day.  The memory of them sinking into the chairs in the village hall and peeling off their gloves and rubbing heir heads after removeing their helmets is brought back by these lines

Promoted by the cry of a solitary owl, the poet goes on to reflect on the people who are still out in the night:

Shaken out long and clear upon the hill

No merry note, nor cause of merriment,

But one telling me plain what I escaped

And others could not, that night, as in I went.

Sometimes when I can’t ride, or am sitting at home on a Saturday night I Look at the Audax website before I go to bed.  I look to see if there are rides on somewhere and imagine the riders pushing into the night.  They may not be soldiers lying in sodden trenches (as Thomas imagines in the last verse) but the message resonates all the same.


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