The Man With the Hoe – by Edwin Markham

I dedicate this favorite poem to the new breed of aristocracy, not only in the United States, but in Greece, throughout Europe, and throughout the world, whose overarching and obscene greed is grinding the middle class down and down and down until they can walk over our backs and not get their Testoni’s dirty . It’s dedicated to those CEOs and snide upper echelon management who (to my own personal knowledge) have told employees of 20-30 years’ standing  that if they complain too much about grinding labor, long hours, and little pay, that they can be replaced with younger and better and with less pay — from off the streets. I have known, from  my own personal knowledge, men who have been sent packing just short of retirement, for trumped-up infringements. This demoralizing of hard-working men and women must rise as a stink in God’s nostrils, who made man in His own image. It was God who said to the rich man who bragged of his accumulated wealth, “You fool. You’re going to die tonight. Then who’s going to get all your stuff.” (my paraphrase from Luke 12:20.) I have read that Edwin Markham wrote this poem after viewing the painting of the same name by Millet. Is that how the poor and rapidly waning middle class will look a few decades down the road? Like a brute beast with empty eyes and no hope? 

The Man with the Hoe

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 his brow?
Whose breath blew out the light within his 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 caverns of Hell to their 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 packed with danger to the universe.

What gulfs between him and the seraphim!
Slave of the wheel of labor, 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?
Thru this dread shape the suffering ages look;
Time’s tragedy is in that aching stoop;
Thru this dread shape humanity betrayed,
Plundered, profaned and disinherited,
Cries protest to the Judges of the World,
A protest that is also a prophecy.

O masters, lords and rulers of 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 all shores?
How will it be with kingdoms and with kings –
With those who shaped him to the thing he is –
When this dumb Terror shall rise to judge the world,
After the silence of the centuries?

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