As The Teams Head Brass Essay
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
“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.
The "team's head brass" refers to the brass bridles connected to the reins allowing the ploughman to steer the team of horses as they pull the plow to break up the unplowed "yellow square of charlock" into land ready to be planted to crops.
As the farmer and horses move back and forth, at one end of each pass the farmer exchanges a few words with the narrator of the poem, who is watching the work while sitting in an elm tree that had been blown down by a blizzard. The tree is still where it landed after the winter storm, even when it is spring and time for plowing and planting, because of the shortage of people to help with such tasks. One of the ploughman's "mates" was killed in France "the very night of the blizzard." The ploughman misses his friend and his help - "Now if he had stayed here we should have moved the tree."
The ploughman and the narrator contemplate how "everything would have been different" if the mate had not left - the mate would still be alive; the narrator might have had to go to war in the place of the mate; the narrator might have lost a limb, or his life.
The irony of it all is that the lovers still go off into the woods and then come out again, even as others face the horrors of the war and their helplessness in the face of it. The reader is left to wonder if the lovers are ever affected by the war, as has been everyone else.