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The narrator creates sympathy for the man by describing him as standing "bowed" as he leans on his hoe. The man also has an emptiness in his gaze and seems to carry a heavy burden on his back. The narrator then describes the man as being "stolid and stunned" and compares him to an ox. Again, the man's back is described as being "slanted." The narrator then mentions the man's ignorance by asking, "Whose breath blew out the light within this brain?" The man with the hoe is also described as a "slave to the wheels of labor" and compared to a "monstrous thing" whose soul has been quenched. The narrator cries out to God and asks Him to redeem the laborer for all the wrongs committed against the unfathomable nameless workers who have lived miserable lives. The narrator then asks what will happen to the kingdoms and kings when the "dumb Terror" rises in rebellion. Essentially, the man with the hoe symbolizes the multitudes of oppressed laborers throughout history who have been taken advantage of by nefarious rulers. They live miserably, and both their bodies and minds have been worn out by endless labor.
The poet describes the man with the hoe as a pitiful and pitiable figure. He is bowed down 'with the weight of centuries' and carries the 'burden of the world' on his back. Continuous, crushing labor has so dehumanized the farmer that he has become a 'thing that grieves not and that never hopes.' Furthermore, there seems to be no vehicle for his voice to be heard.
Basically, the poet draws our attention to the degradation that is the direct result of the farmer's subsistence lifestyle. He laments that the creature God has made to 'have dominion over sea and land; To trace the stars and search the heavens for power; To feel the passion of Eternity,' has become nothing more than an automaton, to be exploited at the hands of the rich and the powerful. The poet also argues that 'those who shaped him to the thing he is' have so marred God's creation that the farmer has become a 'monstrous thing distorted and soul-quenched.'
Our attention is further drawn to the farmer's physical deformity. The poet uses the imagery of the 'dread shape humanity betrayed' to characterize the suffering endured by the anonymous masses of victimized humanity. To that end, the poet questions how the powers that be will ever be able to straighten the 'aching stoop' before 'this dumb Terror shall rise to judge the world' and the 'whirlwinds of rebellion shake all shores.'
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