The Man with the Hoe and Other Poems (1899)
The Man With the Hoe (1898)
- Inspired by the painting L'homme à la houe by Jean-François Millet, this poem was first presented as a public poetry reading at a New Year's Eve party in 1898 and was published soon afterwards. (Full text online, with the painting)
- 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?
- Down all the stretches 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.
- 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?
- 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?
- The crest and crowning of all good,
Life's final star, is Brotherhood;
For it will bring again to Earth
Her long-lost Poesy and Mirth;
Will send new light on every face,
A kingly power upon the race.
And till it come, we men are slaves,
And travel downward to the dust of graves.
- Come, clear the way, then, clear the way:
Blind creeds and kings have had their day.
Break the dead branches from the path;
Our hope is in the aftermath —
Our hope is in heroic men,
Star-led to build the world again.
To this Event the ages ran:
Make way for Brotherhood — make way for Man.
The Shoes of Happiness, and Other Poems (1913)
- He drew a circle that shut me out —
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in.
The Crowning Hour
- It was ages ago in life's first wonder
I found you, Virgilia, wild sea-heart;
And 'twas ages ago that we went asunder,
Ages and worlds apart.
Your luminous face and your hair's dark glory,
I knew them of old by an ocean-stream,
In a far, first world now turned to story,
Now faded back to dream.
- We are caught in the coil of a God's romances —
We come from old worlds and we go afar:
I have missed you again in the Earth's wild chances —
Now to another star!
Perhaps we are led and our loves are fated,
And our steps are counted one by one;
Perhaps we shall meet and our souls be mated,
After the burnt-out sun.
For over the world a dim hope hovers,
The hope at the heart of all our songs —
That the banded stars are in league with lovers,
And fight against their wrongs.
- If this is a dream, then perhaps our dreaming
Can touch life's height to a finer fire:
Who knows but the heavens and all their seeming
Were made by the heart's desire?
One thing shines clear in the heart's sweet reason,
One lightning over the chasm runs —
That to turn from love is the world's one treason
That darkens all the suns.
- So I go to the long adventure, lifting
My face to the far, mysterious goals,
To the last assize, to the final sifting
Of gods and stars and souls.
- Our ways go wide and I know not whither,
But my song will search through the worlds for you,
Till the Seven Seas waste and the Seven Stars wither,
And the dream of the heart comes true.
I am out to the roads and the long, long questing,
On dark tides driven, on great winds blown:
I pass the runs of the world, unresting,
I sail to the unknown.
- There are more lives yet, there are more worlds waiting,
For the way climbs up to the eldest sun,
Where the white ones go to their mystic mating,
And the Holy Will is done.
- I will find you there where our low life heightens,
Where the door of the Wonder again unbars,
Where the old love lures and the old fire whitens,
In the Stars behind the stars.
- It will all come back — the wasted splendor,
The heart's lost youth like a breaking flower,
The dauntless dare, and the wistful, tender
Touch of the April hour.
- As we go star-stilled in the mystic garden,
All the prose of this life run there to rhyme,
How eagerly then will the poor heart pardon
All of these hurts of Time!
Ah, yes, in that hour of our souls dream-driven,
In that high, white hour, O my wild sea-bride,
The tears and the years will be all forgiven, ...
And all be justified.
About Edwin Markham
- His reputation has faded because of the somewhat dated nature of his verse; nevertheless, he remains a notable figure for his contributions to American poetry. His work stands as an example of what American critics and readers valued near the turn of the century. His poetry offers insight into an important phase in the development of American letters.
- William R. Nash in "Edwin Markham's Life and Career — A Concise Overview", American National Biography (Oxford University Press, 1999)