In 1876, the American poet Edwin Markham abandoned his Methodist roots for a utopian socialist spirituality that focused on social harmony. It was a theme that would come to characterize his life and work — much of his writing celebrates the concepts of peace, love and socialist utopian reforms.
After viewing a painting by the French artist, Jean-Francois Millet, Markham wrote a poem that described the hardships of manual laborers. It’s his best-known poem and it’s titled, “The Man With the Hoe.” Since it’s quite a long poem, here are some excerpts.
THE MAN WITH THE HOE (excerpts)
By Edwin Markham
God made man in His own image,
in the image of God made He him. —Genesis.
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 stretch of Hell to its last gulf
There is no shape more terrible than this—
More tongued with censure of the world’s blind greed—
More filled with signs and portents for the soul—
More fraught with danger to the universe.
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 the world?
How will it be with kingdoms and with kings—
With those who shaped him to the thing he is—
When this dumb Terror shall reply to God
After the silence of the centuries?
FOR ADDITIONAL READING: See Lincoln and Other Poems by Edwin Markham.
More spiritual nuggets for today …
Today marks the execution of Army private Eddie Slovik in 1945.
He was the first and only member of the military executed for desertion since the Civil War. Before he joined the military, Slovik had several run-ins with the law for small crimes like petty theft and disturbing the peace. After basic training at Camp Wolters in Texas, Slovik was assigned to an infantry division in German-occupied France. But when he arrived in France, he quickly realized he wasn’t cut out for combat and requested a reassignment to a unit in the rear of the division. His request was denied, so he turned himself in for desertion. And Slovik wasn’t alone. All told, 21,000 enlisted men received sentences for desertion during WWII. But Slovik was the only one who received a death sentence, mostly because the army needed to stem the tide of desertions that occurred after the Battle of the Bulge a month earlier. As he prepared to face the firing squad, Slovik said:
“They’re not shooting me for deserting the United States Army, thousands of guys have done that. They just need to make an example out of somebody and I’m it because I’m an ex-con. I used to steal things when I was a kid, and that’s what they are shooting me for. They’re shooting me for the bread and chewing gum I stole when I was 12 years old.”
The attending chaplain at the execution was Father Carl Patrick Cummings. Just before they put the hood over Slovik’s head, Cummings asked the young private to say a prayer for him when he reached heaven. Slovik’s last words were reportedly, “Okay, Father. I’ll pray that you don’t follow me too soon.”
And on this day in 2014, the world’s oldest flamingo died in Australia at the ripe old age of 83.
The flamingo’s name was Greater, and he entered the zoo in 2008 after barely surviving a beating by a group of teenagers. But zookeepers were eventually forced to put him to sleep due to complications from arthritis and old age. It’s worth noting that flamingos have been celebrated throughout history. The Egyptians represented their god, Ra, as a flamingo and the Moche culture of Peru worshipped flamingos in their religious rituals. But the world’s flamingo population is currently in decline, with the total population estimated at less than 200,000 individual birds.
That’s today’s Spiritual Almanac. For additional reading, see Lincoln and Other Poems by Edwin Markham. There’s a link above.
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