The famous poem "The Man With the Hoe" by Edwin Markham is based upon a painting of the same name. Because the poem is inspired by a still image, the physical description of the man matches what the painter, Jean-Francois Millet, depicted in oil. However, Markham goes far beyond Millet's...
The famous poem "The Man With the Hoe" by Edwin Markham is based upon a painting of the same name. Because the poem is inspired by a still image, the physical description of the man matches what the painter, Jean-Francois Millet, depicted in oil. However, Markham goes far beyond Millet's painting to also describe the man's mental and spiritual condition. He also compares what he should be like (as a living soul created in the image of God) in relation to what he is really like.
Physically, Markham describes the man leaning on the hoe and looking at the ground with a dead, emotionless expression. His jaw hangs loose with exhaustion. He is like a beast of burden instead of a man due to the hard work he has to do. He has become distorted through his never-ending toil and is now described as a "dread shape," a "monstrous thing," and with "dumb terror."
Markham writes that the mental state of the man has also been affected by the excruciating burden of his work. He can no longer appreciate the beauties around him—such as the appearance of dawn, the color of flowers, the light of the stars, or the nuances of music. Markham explains that his soul is quenched; in other words, the light of it has been put out. He needs to once again look upward, see the light, enjoy music, and sense his immortality.
Spiritually, the poet describes the man with the hoe as fallen from the image that God created in the beginning and intended humankind to embody. Markham points out that God intended that man should have "dominion over sea and land" and "feel the passion of eternity." Instead, the "world's blind greed" has caused this poor man to become a "slave of the wheel of labor" who is far removed from God's original vision for him. Markham proclaims that the "masters, lords and rulers in all lands" are accountable for this man's pains and sorrows, both now and in the future.