Tuesday, February 1, 2011


Black reapers with the sound of steel on stones (A)
Are sharpening scythes. I see them place the hones (A)
In their hip-pockets as a thing that's done, (B)
And start their silent swinging, one by one. (B)
Black horses drive a mower through the weeds, (C)
And there, a field rat, startled, squealing bleeds, (C)
His belly close to ground. I see the blade, (D)
Blood-stained, continue cutting weeds and shade. (D)

First off, I think it is a good idea to get familiar with the term “reapers” which are machines that are used to cut standing grain. However, the word refers to something different in this context. The “black reapers” are referring to slaves out in the field. One of the major hints for this is when “I see them place the hones in their hip-pockets as a thing that’s done.” This is obviously referring to the slaves and it shows how they were used for manual/physical labor. The rhyme scheme is important (AABBCCDD). This poem is evenly spread out with 8 lines and every two lines rhyme. The interesting thing about all of the end words of each line is that they all refer to something slave/field related. Ex: “weeds, bleeds.”

The phrase “black horses” appears half way into the poem and I think the author used this as a comparison to the slaves. The slaves in a sense are portrayed as horses and I think it is interesting to use the word “black” because not only does it represent the physical appearances of the horses and the slaves, it can also resemble death. One of the reasons for this is the reference to the “field rat” (aka slave) and how it was “squealing bleeds.” This poem exemplifies the brutality and physical pains of field slaves and how they were treated as rather objects (reapers-machines) instead of human beings. The last line is important, “blood-stained, continue cutting weeds and shade” because it showed that slaves were not respected as humans and were treated strictly for manual labor.

Source: Cane, Jane Toomer, “Reapers” (5)


  1. I think that our responses are similar, or at least have similar views of "Reapers" One of the things that occurred to me as I read this poem, but couldn't find a place to work into my response, was how the first rhyme is 'stones' and 'hones'; I thought it was interesting that the word stones could very easily be changed with 'bones' as if a slave driver were breaking the bones of his workers. I was interested about how you say that reapers are machines, I tended to think of 'reapers' as referring to something simpler, i.e. men who do the reaping. My last thought is how the word 'reap' is very close to the word 'rape', did you consider how there was a possibility of Toomer claiming that, figuratively and literally, slaves were raped, scarring them for life in much the same way a cut from a scythe would scar you?

  2. That is very interesting. I think that is definitely a possiblity for sure. Because that was obviously something that slaves (women in particular) had to deal with from their slave masters