Monday, January 1, 2007

Happy Hoe New Year!

Thanks to reader, Rafa, from Madrid, Spain, for alerting me to this Hoe poem and Hoe painting.
The Man with a Hoe

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?

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 power;
To feel the passion of Eternity?
Is this the dream He dreamed who shaped the suns
And marked their ways upon the ancient deep?
Down all the caverns of Hell to their last gulf
There is no shape more terrible than this--
More tongued with cries against the world's blind greed--
More filled with signs and portents for the soul--
More packed with danger 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 the 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 stoop;
Through this dread shape humanity betrayed,
Plundered, profaned and disinherited,
Cries protest to the Powers that made the world,
A 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;
Touch it again with immortality;
Give back the upward looking and the light;
Rebuild in it the music and the dream;
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 all shores?
How will it be with kingdoms and with kings--
With those who shaped him to the thing he is--
When this dumb Terror shall rise to judge the world,
After the silence of the centuries?

1899, Charles Edward Anson Markham (1852-1940)
Using the penname Edwin Markham

Markham was inspired by the 1863 painting "L'homme à la houe" by the French artist, Jean-François Millet (1814-1875), to write this poem.

If you think that guy is worn and tired, just imagine how his poor hoe must feel! ;-) Actually, I think he'd have saved his back some trouble with a longer handle on his hoe, but I guess back then they made do with what they could find.

Incidentally, this morning I watched part of a documentary about Afghanistan and was enlightened to see that even when people live in caves they have the same concerns and conflicts within their families as people who live in warm, comfortable houses. The wife was bitching at the husband about the same things I bitch about sometimes, and the older man was bitching at the younger man (not sure if the wife was this older guy's daughter) about going out and getting a job to help support the family. It is very weird to know that in the twenty-first century there are people still living in caves. It is another moment of realization at how good my life is and how thankful and appreciative I must be.

As we begin 2007 let's all reflect on the blessings we've received and be truly thankful for them. And let's hope that the New Year will continue to provide for us the things we need. And also, let's have compassion and empathy for those whose work is greater than ours and whose lives are harder.

Happy New Year!

PS I did ring in the New Year with a glass of premature lemonade, and it was pretty tasty!

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