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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.
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