Edward Thomas Fellowship Year 12 and 13 Close Reading Competition 2023/24 – Deadline 30 November 2023
The Edward Thomas Fellowship’s principal aim is to keep the poet’s work widely read and enjoyed. Following the success of the essay competition last year, the Fellowship is delighted to be running the competition for the second time, with a £100 cash prize for students currently in Years 12-13.
The essay competition is an excellent opportunity for you to explore a poem by one of English Literature’s most celebrated poets and thereby deepen your understanding of early twentieth century poetry. If you’re thinking about studying English at university, it’s also a great way to enrich your UCAS application.
You can find last year’s winning entry and shortlisted candidates by scrolling to the foot of this page.
Edward Thomas’s poem “As the team’s head-brass”…
… was written in 1916 during World War I
… illustrates WWI’s intrusion into rural England and English pastoral
… contains a conversation between the poem’s speaker and a ploughman.
… is regarded as an important WWI poet
… wrote 144 poems between 1914-1917 before his death in action in WWI
… takes a different approach to other WWI poets such as Wilfred Owen
… is concerned with the natural environment – highly relevant to discussions about climate change today.
Key Entry Details
The Poem: You can read “As the team’s head-brass” below.
Word count: 500 words minimum, 800 words maximum (please note: entries may be up to 10% above the maximum word count – any words above 880 words will be disregarded).
Deadline for submitting entry: 5pm, Thursday 30th November 2023
Format: Please include your full name, the name of your school and the word count at the top of your entry document. Please use a clear font with font size 12 or above.
Submit entries by email: to Robert Woolliams (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Results announced: Friday 2nd February 2024
- First: £100, publication in Edward Thomas Fellowship newsletter, one-year free print and digital membership of Edward Thomas Fellowship*
- Two Runners up: £50
- Shortlist: shortlisted students named in Edward Thomas Fellowship newsletter and on social media pages (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram)
- All candidates: one-year free digital membership of Edward Thomas Fellowship*
*Edward Thomas Fellowship membership includes newsletters, discounted events admission, information on competitions and more.
This year the competition will be judged by leading scholar of Edward Thomas, Professor Lucy Newlyn.
Your entry should:
- Focus on a close reading of “As the team’s head-brass”
- Explore what you find interesting about “As the team’s head-brass”
- Look closely at what is special and distinctive about “As the team’s head-brass”
- Have a clear sense of the poem as a whole, with discussion moving between the detail and the bigger picture
- Be written in a clear and simple style, using technical literary vocabulary when relevant.
As the team’s head-brass
As the team’s head-brass flashed out on the turn
The lovers disappeared into the wood.
I sat among the boughs of the fallen elm
That strewed an angle of the fallow, and
Watched the plough narrowing a yellow square
Of charlock. Every time the horses turned
Instead of treading me down, the ploughman leaned
Upon the handles to say or ask a word,
About the weather, next about the war.
Scraping the share he faced towards the wood,
And screwed along the furrow till the brass flashed
The blizzard felled the elm whose crest
I sat in, by a woodpecker’s round hole,
The ploughman said. “When will they take it away?”
“When the war’s over.” So the talk began –
One minute and an interval of ten,
A minute more and the same interval.
“Have you been out?” “No.” “And don’t want to, perhaps?”
“If I could only come back again, I should.
I could spare an arm. I shouldn’t want to lose
A leg. If I should lose my head, why, so,
I should want nothing more …. Have many gone
From here?” “Yes.” “Many lost?” “Yes, a good few.
Only two teams work on the farm this year.
One of my mates is dead. The second day
In France they killed him. It was back in March,
The very night of the blizzard, too. Now if
He had stayed here we should have moved the tree.”
“And I should not have sat here. Everything
Would have been different. For it would have been
Another world.” “Ay, and a better, though
If we could see all all might seem good.” Then
The lovers came out of the wood again:
The horses started and for the last time
I watched the clods crumble and topple over
After the ploughshare and the stumbling team.
Edward Thomas Fellowship Year 12 and 13 Close Reading Competition 2022/23 – Results
In the competition’s inaugural year, we invited year 12 and 13 students to write a close reading of Edward Thomas’ “Adlestrop”.
We were delighted to receive a total of 29 entries altogether, from ten different schools. The quality of the essays was generally very high, and it was challenging to narrow down the essays to a shortlist of ten. Choosing winners and runners up was even more difficult.
Congratulations go to the following students and our thanks to everyone who submitted an entry. Perhaps those in Year 12 will have another go next year ….
Michelle M, Winchester College
Prize: £100, essay published in Edward Thomas Fellowship newsletter, one year’s free membership of Edward Thomas Fellowship
Olivia H, St Catherine’s School, Bramley
Hannah N, Highgate School
Prize: £50 each
Kate A, St Catherine’s School, Bramley
Annabelle D, St Catherine’s School, Bramley
Aidan L, Peter Symonds College
Fiona M, Peter Symonds College
Helena M, Peter Symonds College
Ivo S, Winchester College
Francesca W, Winchester College
Prize: All ten shortlisted students named in Edward Thomas Fellowship newsletter and on social media pages (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram)
The competition judge, Professor Lucy Newlyn, commented that Michelle’s winning essay “is steadily observant and perceptive, as well as clearly written with no pretentious flourishes”. Overall, she was impressed with the “thoughtful material” produced by students.
The winning essay, by Michelle M:
“Adlestrop, a simple yet charming poem examining the serenity of nature, comes from a chance occurrence in the summer of 1914, a few weeks before the outbreak of war, when Edward Thomas’ train came to an unscheduled stop in the village of Adlestrop. There, he had time to reflect, examining the beauty of the seemingly mundane place.
Adlestrop contains consistent rhyming in the second and fourth line of each stanza, giving it a comforting feel correspondent with the poem’s tranquillity, and is written in first person to show it is a personal experience, one better demonstrated as speech. The use of caesura marks breaks for breaths, furthering that sense of intimacy which pervades throughout the memory being recounted. The first stanza starts with the simple, ambiguous declaration of ‘yes’, showing he is speaking directly to the reader, and instantly draws one’s attention with its abruptness, especially as the reader is told of ‘Adlestrop’, a place they are unlikely to have heard of before. It has a whimsical sound to it, one likely to lead to curiosity, but there is also a sense of impatience at first, suggested by the emphasis of ‘one afternoon of heat’, with connotations of discomfort. This is backed by the adverb ‘unwontedly’ to comment on the spontaneity of the train stopping there, seeming critical.
Afterwards, the focus shifts to sound, bringing the memory to life: ‘the steam hissed’ and ‘someone cleared his throat’. There is an eeriness about ‘no one’ on the platform – this contrasts with ‘someone’ on the train and shows Adlestrop’s isolation. The adjective ‘bare’ is bleak, and the one thing he can see on the platform is ‘only the name’. This is the second time that ‘the name’ of Adlestrop is mentioned and this emphasis may be to highlight the random things in life we remember: sometimes, small memories remain with us, profound and touching despite their apparent insignificance.
Thomas then fixates on nature to bring a positive outlook, using personification to describe the clouds as ‘No whit less still’, demonstrating nature is free-spirited and independent, even sentient. This is a sentiment shared in more of his poetry: for instance, in ‘Aspens’, Thomas focuses on how ‘The aspens at the cross-roads talk together of rain’, using personification to show nature should be regarded as important. As well as this, Adlestrop’s description of ‘cloudlets’ suggests there are few of them, their isolation reflecting the station and implying how nature thrives without the destruction of humankind. Isolation is not presented as depressing: on the contrary, it offers opportunity for peaceful reflection. After all, a sky with less clouds is clearer.
This admiration of nature continues as the poetic persona becomes impressed by it all. He fixates on a single blackbird, but this expands from ‘close by’ to ‘father and farther’ before using the hyperbolic statement to include ‘all the birds’, showing us the process of his appreciation building. There is something grandiose, almost mesmerising about the exaggeration. The specificity ‘of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire’ lends a degree of plausibility to the claim, showing the poet’s new contentedness as his focus shifts from the train’s delay to focus on the merits of the situation. The first two stanzas notably consist of three sentences each while the last two only have one, suggesting a change from apathy to enthusiasm as the speaker is carried away by his appreciation. By increasing the intensity of the sentences, dragging them out and giving less pause for breath, Thomas reflects the poetic persona’s growing satisfaction.
‘Adlestrop’ also looks at the theme of time as the busy world slows down to a brief ‘minute’ where everything stills, contrasting with the bustling modern world. There is a calmness in ‘no one left and no one came’: in that moment, there is no stress, just nature and observation. Time is further mentioned in Thomas’ poem ‘As the Team’s Head Brass’ with ‘so the talk began – one minute and an interval of ten, a minute more and the same interval’. Thomas’ chosen emphasis of ‘one minute’ shows how short moments of time can have a large impact, causing long intervals of reflection after. By centring on time, ‘Adlestrop’ shows how brief moments can last forever: the use of ‘for that minute’ centres in on that period and its impact. This meaning has even more effect due to the poem’s proximity to the start of war, where the loss of life made every moment count more.
Thomas’ writings centred around the environment and its impact on human spirit. He filled nature journals with observations, showing his reverence for the natural world, and this appreciation of nature continues to play a profound role in a time where climate change has become such an issue, highlighting the beauty of nature and how we should appreciate rather than destroy it.”