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Poems Every Child Should Know by  Mary E. Burt

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THE MAN WITH THE HOE

[333] "The Man With the Hoe" is purely an American product, and every American ought to be proud of it, for we want no such type allowed to be developed in this country as the low-browed peasant of France. This poem is a stroke of genius. The story goes that it so offended a modern plutocrat that he offered a reward of $10,000 to any one who could write an equally good poem in rebuttal. "The Man With the Hoe" has won for Edwin Markham the title of "Poet Laureate of the Labouring Classes."

WRITTEN AFTER SEEING THE PAINTING BY MILLET.

God made man in His own image, in the image of God made He him.—Genesis.



Bowed by the weight of centuries he leans

Upon his hoe and gazes on the ground,

The emptiness of ages in his face,

And on his back the burden of the world.

Who made him dead to rapture and despair,

A thing that grieves not and that never hopes,

Stolid and stunned, a brother to the ox?

Who loosened and let down this brutal jaw?

Whose was the hand that slanted back this brow?

Whose breath blew out the light within this brain?


Is this the Thing the Lord God made and gave

To have dominion over sea and land;

To trace the stars and search the heavens for power;

To feel the passion of Eternity?

Is this the Dream He dreamed who shaped the suns

And marked their ways upon the ancient deep?

Down all the stretch of Hell to its last gulf

There is no shape more terrible than this—

More tongued with censure of the world's blind greed—

More filled with signs and portents for the soul—

More fraught with menace to the universe.


What gulfs between him and the seraphim!

Slave of the wheel of labour, what to him

Are Plato and the swing of Pleiades?

What the long reaches of the peaks of song,

The rift of dawn, the reddening of the rose?

Through this dread shape the suffering ages look;

Time's tragedy is in that aching stoop;

Through this dread shape humanity betrayed,

Plundered, profaned, and disinherited,

Cries protest to the Judges of the World,

A protest that is also prophecy.


O masters, lords, and rulers in all lands,

Is this the handiwork you give to God,

This monstrous thing distorted and soul-quenched?

How will you ever straighten up this shape;

Touch it again with immortality;

Give back the upward looking and the light;

Rebuild in it the music and the dream;

Make right the immemorial infamies,

Perfidious wrongs, immedicable woes?


O masters, lords, and rulers in all lands,

How will the future reckon with this Man?

How answer his brute question in that hour

When whirlwinds of rebellion shake the world?

How will it be with kingdoms and with kings—

With those who shaped him to the thing he is—

When this dumb Terror shall reply to God,

After the silence of the centuries?


EDWIN MARKHAM.


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