The Man with the Hoe

Original Text: 

Edwin Markham, The Man with the Hoe and Other Poems (New York: Doubleday and McClure, 1899): 15-18. Internet Archive

Written after seeing Millet's World-Famous Painting
God made man in His own image,
in the image of God made He him. -- Genesis.
2Upon his hoe and gazes on the ground,
3The emptiness of ages in his face,
4And on his back the burden of the world.
5Who made him dead to rapture and despair,
6A thing that grieves not and that never hopes,
7Stolid and stunned, a brother to the ox?
8Who loosened and let down this brutal jaw?
9Whose was the hand that slanted back this brow?
10Whose breath blew out the light within this brain?
11Is this the Thing the Lord God made and gave
12To have dominion over sea and land;
13To trace the stars and search the heavens for power;
14To feel the passion of Eternity?
15Is this the Dream he dreamed who shaped the suns
16And pillared the blue firmament with light?
17Down all the stretch of Hell to its last gulf
18There is no shape more terrible than this --
19More tongued with censure of the world's blind greed --
20More filled with signs and portents for the soul --
21More fraught with menace to the universe.
22What gulfs between him and the seraphim!
23Slave of the wheel of labor, what to him
24Are Plato and the swing of Pleiades?
25What the long reaches of the peaks of song,
26The rift of dawn, the reddening of the rose?
27Through this dread shape the suffering ages look;
28Time's tragedy is in that aching stoop;
29Through this dread shape humanity betrayed,
30Plundered, profaned and disinherited,
31Cries protest to the Judges of the World,
32A protest that is also prophecy.
33O masters, lords and rulers in all lands,
34Is this the handiwork you give to God,
35This monstrous thing distorted and soul-quenched?
36How will you ever straighten up this shape;
37Touch it again with immortality;
38Give back the upward looking and the light;
39Rebuild in it the music and the dream;
40Make right the immemorial infamies,
41Perfidious wrongs, immedicable woes?
42O masters, lords and rulers in all lands,
43How will the Future reckon with this Man?
44How answer his brute question in that hour
45When whirlwinds of rebellion shake the world?
46How will it be with kingdoms and with kings --
47With those who shaped him to the thing he is --
48When this dumb Terror shall reply to God,
49After the silence of the centuries?

Notes

1] Oil painting by Jean-François Millet (1814-75). Back to Line
Publication Notes: 

San Francisco Examiner, January 1899

RPO poem Editors: 
Data entry by Sharine Leung
RPO Edition: 
2012
Rhyme: 
Form: