Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Edward Thomas poem

This is a pure self-indulgence. I have been reading Edward Thomas's poetry these past few days, and then Housman's collected poems yesterday, and so my mind is with them and their worlds.

Edward Thomas

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 the 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
Once more.

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.


  1. Thank you BB. I love this poem. A war poem, not one of the trenches, but one rooted in the farmland of home. I can imagine the chalk farmland around Steep, below the hangers, where this exchange might have taken place.

  2. Ah, I know Steep too. Back in 1971 I was a working pupil at a riding school over that way, and our farrier lived at Steep. I should love to go back there knowing that ET had lived there, and be able to explore. Hmmm - just Googled and now have a Literary walk around the village, showing where he used to live with Helen and the children. We used to ride through the Hangers over near Rake - sheer magic on a summer's day . . .

  3. A world that has disappeared - ET is one of my favourite poets too.