Black reapers with the sound of steel on stones
Are sharpening scythes. I see them place the hones
In their hip-pockets as a thing that’s done,
And start their silent swinging, one by one.
Black horses drive a mower through the weeds,
And there, a field rat, startled, squealing bleeds.
His belly close to ground. I see the blade,
Blood-stained, continue cutting weeds and shade. (Cane, 5)
“Reapers” is a dark poem which uses metaphors to show the domineering tendencies of humans. I believe it is a poem that shows what happens when people are slaves to another’s will. In the case of the reapers, which I take to mean free men, they are able to control what they cut. Every swing of their scythe is their own, meaning that they can choose how they wish to wield that tool. This is a metaphor that shows that there is no excess destruction, to either society or human lives, when men have their freedoms. The black horses, which I see as a metaphor for the oppressed blacks of the time period, do not have control over their actions though. They are driven on by somebody else, destroying everything in their way with the mower blades. The gruesome image of the field rat getting mowed down is to show the destructive things that can happen when one does not get to wield his own scythe. It is a metaphor to show the consequential destruction that happens when people are enslaved by others. Just as the field rat was collateral damage for the horse being made to pull the mower, the ruin of human lives and society could be the collateral damage when a group of people are enslaved.