Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
We step over the barbed wire into the pasture
Where they have been grazing all day, alone.
- Yikes, barbed wire! Hope the speaker is stepping carefully, because those barbs mean business; they can rip your skin as well as your blue jeans. There's also the issue of trespassing to consider. In addition to keeping livestock in, barbed wire fences are designed to keep intruders out. Any moment now, the ponies' owner could conceivably arrive on the scene, angrily confronting these uninvited visitors.
- For now, though, the scene remains peaceful, as the humans cross the barbed-wire boundary into the pasture. In addition to sharing their space, the ponies share a different kind of time, as they have been "grazing all day." Imagine all those unhurried, sunny hours of grazing, as the ponies move slowly across the pasture. What a change for human travelers who, moments earlier, were hurtling down the highway at 60+ miles per hour!
- Notice how the word "alone" is set apart at the end of the line. (For more on this, see the "Form and Meter" section.) Despite its deliberate placement, the word seems somewhat out of place conceptually. The two ponies presumably keep each other company, so in what sense are they "alone"?
- Perhaps they qualify as alone simply because no other animals or humans have visited the pasture that day. Though perfectly logical, this interpretation still leaves some unanswered questions. "Alone" is a powerful word, with both positive and negative connotations. How do the ponies feel about being alone? Is their aloneness a good thing or a bad thing or just a neutral fact of their existence?
They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness
That we have come.
- These lines suggest that the ponies really do crave contact with the human visitors. Earlier, the ponies were kind and welcoming, but now they seem positively thrilled to have company, their excitement expressed as a form of tension. They're so eager, in fact, that line 9 forms a run-on sentence. (For more on this technique, see the "Form and Meter" section.)
They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other.
- After that enthusiastic reception, you'd think the ponies would be all over their guests, offering delighted demonstrations of affection. Yet line 11 states that the ponies "love each other." Using a simile, the poet compares the ponies to "wet swans." Swans often serve as a symbol of romantic love, so it seems likely that the ponies are bowing to each other rather than to their human guests.
- So why are the ponies suddenly focusing on each other instead of on the human guests that they were so thrilled to greet? Did the ponies just decide that the humans weren't that interesting after all? Or are the ponies showing off for the guests? After all, when two people fall in love, they often act kind of goofy, wanting to tell the whole world how wonderful they feel.
There is no loneliness like theirs.
- Say what? Just a second ago, the ponies were all about loving each other, so why would they feel lonely now? Back in line 8, there was that curious reference to the ponies being "alone," hinting that their companionship with each other might not completely fulfill their social needs. After all, even if you love spending time alone with your significant other, the two of you probably wouldn't enjoy being marooned forever on a desert island without any other people.
- In this line, the speaker insists on the unique quality of the ponies' loneliness. But what makes their loneliness different from everybody else's? Perhaps their loneliness is worse, more painful. But the ponies certainly don't seem miserable. Though they're happy to greet visitors, they're also pleased as punch with each other. Maybe their loneliness is unique because it's better, not worse, than the usual loneliness. Let's read on to see…