In what sense are the ponies "at home"? Well, they probably spend a lot of time grazing in this pasture, so it might be considered their home. The expression "at home" can also mean "comfortable," as in "make yourself at home." After all the hoopla of welcoming unexpected visitors, the ponies are settling back into their usual routine. And those are the best hosts, aren't they—folks who don't make a big fuss over their houseguests.
They begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness.
So the ponies go back to doing what ponies do—grazing. We can hear them munching the fresh green grass. But wait, there isn't actually any mention of grass in this line. Rather, the speaker refers to "young tufts of spring." As readers, we just assume that those tufts are grass, and they almost certainly are. By substituting the word "spring" for "grass," the poet is using a technique called metonymy (for more on this, see the "Symbols, Imagery, and Wordplay" section).
Though young tufts of grass are certainly associated with spring, the word "spring" is also a treasure trove of other positive associations, such as renewal, rebirth, and hope. Contrasting with all those bright images is the word "darkness." The poem began in "twilight," and twilight sometimes deepens into darkness sooner than we expect. But in addition to this literal meaning, the word "darkness" carries as many symbolic associations as "spring" does. (Check them out in the "Symbols, Imagery, and Wordplay" section.)
I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms, For she has walked over to me And nuzzled my left hand.
For the first time, the speaker differentiates between the two ponies. We learn that one of the ponies, a mare, is slenderer than the other, and she strikes up a closer relationship with the speaker. As a reader, you can almost feel that velvety muzzle, with its few prickly whiskers, nudging your left hand. When an animal trusts you enough to initiate contact, it can make you feel pretty special, and the speaker seems over-the-moon about this encounter, barely suppressing the urge to wrap "my arms" around her.
She is black and white, Her mane falls wild on her forehead,
Remember the reference in line 3 to "Indian ponies"? At the time, we wondered whether an Indian pony was a particular breed. Well, if you do a quick Internet search, you'll soon discover that an Indian pony is a small, hardy horse of western North America. And if you search for photographs of Indian ponies, you'll notice that some of them (these, for example) feature ponies with black and white markings.
Now that we're thinking about Indian ponies, the word "wild" in line 19 conjures up even more images of the Wild West, with Native Americans riding bareback on black-and-white ponies, galloping across the plains. Are you starting to wonder whether Shmoop is straying a little too far from the poem at this point? It's been known to happen! But you might want to check the "Shout Outs" section before you make a final judgment.
And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear That is delicate as the skin over a girl's wrist.
In line 21, the speaker uses a simile to compare the pony to a girl, noting that the pony's ear is "delicate as the skin over a girl's wrist." Why would that thought pop into the speaker's mind? Maybe the tenderness of this cross-species encounter reminds the speaker of other kinds of emotional intimacy, such as romantic love between two human beings (remember the swans?).
The previous line explains why the speaker reaches out to stroke the pony: "a light breeze moves me to caress her long ear." The word "caress" is often used to describe the action of a breeze (as in, "A gentle breeze caressed her face"). So, in a way, you could say that lines 20 and 21 are not just about a single person and a single pony; rather, the speaker is touched by an external force—a mysterious, benevolent impulse carried on the breeze. The speaker then shares that loving gesture with the pony and, through memory, with another human.