Man with a Hoe

ca. 1863

He leans on the short handle, knotted oak
Its flat blade pressed on brambled clay and stone.
A boulder shoulders thorns up from the soil
While oxen plow a far-off pastoral farm

Whose stubble-fires smoke white toward skies in haze.
He dominates the land as serf and lord,
The subject monarch of his stark domain,
His thistle-crown root-bound in freehold earth.

Not fallen from some paradise whose crops
Turned golden while he plucked a harp’s ripe strings,
He’d come down long hard centuries the same,
Man’s bent-back state no revolutions change.

Millet made no more gestures after this
But concentrated on technique alone,
Placing his faith in color, shape, and line
To render such grim dignity divine.


David Middleton
from his book The Habitual Peacefulness of Gruchy: Poems After Pictures by Jean François Millet
Louisiana State University Press, 2005

used with permission of the poet and by special permission from Louisiana State University Press

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