“The Man with the Hoe” is a poem by the American poet Edwin Markham, inspired by Jean-François Millet’s painting L’homme à la houe, a painting interpreted as a socialist protest about the peasant’s plight.
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?
Millet himself wrote of hoeing, “Is this the gay, jovial work some people would have us believe in? But nevertheless, to me it is true humanity and great poetry.”