Oregon: Her history, her great men, her literature/Edwin Markham


When the poem, "The Man With the Hoe," appeared in 1899, "it received world-wide attention, being hailed by some as the 'battle-cry of the next thousand years'." Hence it was with satisfaction that the people of Oregon learned that the poem was written by Edwin Markham. who was born in Oregon Qty, April 23, 1852, and that in him a great poet had arisen.

When Edwin Markham wrote "The Man With the Hoe," he was a resident of California. He had studied Millet's celebrated painting of "The Man With the Hoe," until he discovered something hitherto unrecognized in the blank face and bent form of the servile laborer foiling like an ox at the bidding of another; and the poet made, a picture of that laborer in these immortal words:

"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."

These lines have been the subject of more sermons and editorials than any other four lines written in the English language during the last quarter century. It is, therefore, but fair to the author to concede that if true greatness is measured by one's ability to stamp his impress upon humanity, Edwin Markham would be counted great if he had done no more than to cause mankind to pause long enough to consider the oppressed laborer who had never been taught to think. Largely upon the suggestion of this poem men have begun to correct that "emptiness of ages" in the faces of those against whom conditions have cruelly discriminated. The world is now writing a new dispensation for industry—a new Talmud governing intelligent labor— and that upon the inspiration of seers such as Edwin Markham.



Bowed by the weight of centuries he leans
Upon his hoe and gazes on the groimd.
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 lot down his brutal jaw?
Whose was the hand that slanted back this 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 powers;
To feel the passion oi Eternity?
Is this the Dream He dreamed who shaped the suns
And pillared the blue firmament with light?
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 that aching sloop;
Through this dread shape humanity betrayed.
Plundered, profaned and disinherited,
Cries protest that is also 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;
Give back the upward looking and the light;
Rebuild in it the music and the dream;
Touch it again with immortality;
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 the world?
How will it be with kingdoms and with kings—
With those who shaped him to the thing he is—
When this dumb Terror shall reply to God
After the silence of the centuries?