The Man With the Hoe
is a famous poem written by Edwin Markham
inspired by the painting L'homme à la houe
by Jean-François Millet
; it was first presented as a public poetry reading at a New Year's Eve party in 1898
, and published soon afterwards. It evokes the laborings of much of humanity using the symbolism of a laborer leaning upon his hoe, burdened by his work, but receiving little rest or reward. It has been called "the battle-cry of the next thousand years" and translated into more than 30 languages.
- 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 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 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?
- Through this dread shape the suffering ages look;
- Time's tragedy is in the aching stoop;
- Through this dread shape humanity betrayed,
- Plundered, profaned, and disinherited,
- Cries protest to the Powers that made the world.
- A protest that is also a 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 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?