Friday, February 4, 2011

Reapers: Apathetic Human Automatons

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)

Reapers: Apathetic Human Automatons

The poem reapers has an AABBCCDD rhyme scheme; very simple very rigid. The arrangement of the poem in fashion indicates a certain mechanization and overall lack of feeling. It is as if the workers are nothing more than automatons, consistently working and never minding life (or the lack thereof). A machine has no care for anything but it’s work and regardless of what is in the way, it will continue on.

Even further than this, “black horses” refers to a specific group of people namely African-Americans, perhaps in a sense of slavery. That same line goes on to include “drive a mower through the weeds”, telling that the horses are indeed and work horses. The work horses are owned animals, in the same way plantation owners thought of the slaves that tilled and reaped the ground.


  1. I couldn't agree more with your reading of this poem, and if fact i literally couldn't have said it better myself. I came away with the same reading, and noted the simplistic rhyme scheme used by Toomer. However your description of it being almost like a machine sheds new light on the poem. That is exactly what Toomer was going for. Because that is what slavery was, doing the same thing for hours on end with very little break. Not to mention the death that is mentioned in the poem, almost as if it doesn't phase those working. Which it probably didn't after a while as the slaves grew accustomed to people being worked to death. I agree with your reading here, and like specifically your relation to mechanization.

  2. I also see the poem the same way you do, though I never thought to tie in the rhyme scheme. The poem has an apathetic tone behind it, even at the presence of loss. The worker sees that the field rat was killed, but continues to work: "I see the blade,/ Blood-stained, continue cutting weeds and shade" (ll. 8). The apathetic tone of the poem complements mechanization, like you said, but to a level that it causes the reader to feel sympathy. Obviously, this is Toomer's objective. Overall, your interpretation is great. I like how you relate the rhyme scheme to how mechanic the tone is.