Archive for October 22nd, 2022

The Man with the Hoe

GC Myers- 1995- Exiles-Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

Exiles: Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, 1995

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?

–Edwin Markham, The Man with the Hoe 

This is one of those posts that just came out of the blue. I was looking for something to begin a post about two vintage paintings from around 1995 that will be included in the Kada Gallery show when I came across the beginning lines above from Edwin Markham poem, The Man with the Hoe.

Reading the rest of the poem, I was reminded of the painting at the top, another vintage piece titled Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. Markham’s poem and its message decrying the greed of those who exploit and dehumanize the workers very much was in line with what I see in this piece.

Overused, overlooked and underappreciated.

Millet,_Jean-François_-_Man_with_a_HoeMarkham based the poem on a painting of the same title from Jean-François Millet, that portrayed an exhausted laborer in the field leaning on his hoe, his mouth agape as he looks blankly past the endless fields that surround him. I was struck by the similarity of feel in the Millet piece and my own. Both jibed well with Markham’s words.

The poem was first recited by Markham at a New Year’s party at the end of 1898.  The editor of the San Francisco Examiner was at the same party and published the poem in the paper soon after. It then became a huge success across the nation. At the time, as movements and calls for social reforms were gaining momentum in this country, the poem, with its warning that the mindless beasts would someday rise up against those who had cultivated and exploited them for so long, was called “the battle cry of the next thousand years.”

Perhaps they were right. The prevalent greed that marked the Gilded Age is little different than that exhibited by the super-rich few that control most everything in this world now. We may not physically be standing in fields but many of us remain that man with the hoe.

Here’s a fine reading of the Edwin Markham poem.

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