by Ben Schofield
These poems are paired for me primarily by the lovers, however a closer reading will find more
than just this tying them together. Kinnell's irregular phrasing is beautifully similar to Thomas's,
deflecting the message until the reader digests the line. The similarities struck me through the
lines "Now if / He had stayed here we should have moved the tree." and "Not until what hastens
went slower did we sleep." It is hard to explain what similarity these lines bear, they seem the
hearts of each poem, about which they rotate and could not do without. The first is seemingly
inocuous in vitro but within the poem it becomes a peg for the speaker and the ploughman to
hang their hopes on; Kinnell's is darker, more oblique, yet fulfilled at the same time. They did
sleep but the stump remains.
Despite maintaining the same metre the sounds of the poems are entirely distinct. Thomas's
poem's are meditative, often debating and always colloquial, Kinnell contrasts this with the
individual, and constructed voice in his poem. Phrases stand alone in 'That Silent Evening', cut
off from each other as the couple are from the world; however in 'As the Team's Head Brass',
there is a connectivity of phrase, the enjambement draws the poem along with easy transfer
from narration to dialogue. Ploughman, lovers, speaker, and stumbling team mesh to form an
inseparable scene; even the war enacted hundreds of miles away touches the scene, like an
outlying strand of a spider web quivering the centre.
Note: [The war referenced in 'As the Team Head's Brass' is almost certainly WWI]
'As the Team's HeadBrass'
by Edward Thomas
As the team's headbrass
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
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.
'That Silent Evening' by Galway Kinnell
I will go back to that silent evening
when we lay together and talked in low, silent voices,
while outside slow lumps of soft snow
fell, hushing as they got near the ground,
with a fire in the room, in which centuries
of tree went up in continuous ghostgivingup,
without a crackle, into morning light.
Not until what hastens went slower did we sleep.
When we got home we turned and looked back
at our tracks twining out of the woods,
where the branches we brushed against let fall
puffs of sparkling snow, quickly, in silence,
like stolen kisses, and where the scritch scritch scritch
among the trees, which is the sound that dies
inside the sparks from the wedge when the sledge
hits it off center telling everything inside
it is fire, jumped to a black branch, puffed up
but without arms and so to our eyes lonesome,
and yet also how
could we know this? happy!
in shape of chickadee. Lying still in snow,
like railroad tracks, willing
not to meet until heaven, but here and there
making slubby kissing stops in the field,
our tracks wobble across the snow their long scratch.
Everything that happens here is really little more,
if even that, than a scratch, too. Words, in our mouths,
are almost ready, already, to bandage the one
whom the scritch scritch scritch, meaning if how when
we might lose each other, scratches scratches scratches
from this moment to that. Then I will go back
to that silent evening, when the past just managed
to overlap the future, if only by a trace,
and the light doubles and shines
through the dark the sparkling that heavens the earth.