What does the bent body of the man with the hoe signify?
The bent body of the man in the poem "The Man with the Hoe" signifies the crushing labor the working man must carry out to survive. The weight that bends his body symbolizes "the weight of the centuries," or the burden that humans have long had to toil constantly to grow food and endure. This burden has made the man "dead to rapture and despair," meaning the man can't even feel joy or pain because his constant labor has made him senseless. Instead, he is "brother to the ox," meaning he is like a beast of burden and separated from the "seraphim," or angels. To this man, the achievements of humankind, such as the insights of Plato, are meaningless, as he can do nothing more than till the earth. At the end of the poem, the man comes to symbolize a hope for the future—that rulers will "straighten up this shape," meaning governments will help the working class lead a better and more humane life.
The bent body of the man with the hoe signifies that he is one of a multitude who have labored beyond their strength to support the whims and desires of 'masters, lords and rulers in all lands.'
He is described as 'Stolid and stunned, a brother to the ox.' His labors have been appropriated to sustain the 'world's blind greed.' His back is 'bowed by the weight of centuries,' signifying that he represents all the multitude of burdened, impoverished farmers whose sweat is emblematic of suffering and degradation. The man with the hoe is a 'Slave of the wheel of labor.' The wheel here symbolizes never-ending servitude. Indeed, the poet asks in anguished tones how the world will ever right the wrongs it has inflicted on 'This monstrous thing, distorted and soul-quenched' and unable to comprehend 'light' nor 'immortality.'