Friday, February 4, 2011


This poem irked me in the author's indifference to the seemingly frightening events that she sees. "I see them place the hones/ In their hip-pockets as a thing that's done," she observes unemotionally (Cain 5). The reapers sharpen their blades and put away their hones almost robotically, without a second thought. She continues saying, "I see the blade,/ Blood-stained, continue cutting weeds and shade" (5). The mower moves with complete disregard to anyone or anything around it, even the rat that it mutilated. The alliteration "silent swinging" provides a similar tone as the reapers methodically move, yet without a sound (5)? I imagine looking out my window and seeing people hack away at the ground but not hearing the sounds of the blades- half of me removed from the action because of its silence, but half of me still drawn more to the action itself, almost in a terrifying sense. They may be merely swinging the scythes into the ground for agricultural purposes, probable based on the description of the mower in the next line. I can't help but imagine this scene taking place at night with the repeated use of the color "black" and its darker imagery. While the scene may have a rather unnerving tone to it, perhaps this entire poem is taking place on a farm in broad daylight. If this is the case, the disturbing methodical imagery of scythes swinging and blades turning may only prove to be a typical day at work, a tireless and emotionless long haul. Instead of a relentless blade, a steady tool, deafeningly silent because of great space and isolation.

It's incredible how different interpretations of the same text can be based on a change of tone...


  1. It definitely is interesting how a change in perception of tone can totally change a reading! What I find interesting in you reading is that you say it's possible that this is occurring at night, this never even crossed my mind. I thought of 'black' as referring to the grim connotations that slave labor holds. What did you think about the rat? I was curious as to what exactly the rat and the blood represented, was the blood the blood of a killed laborer, his killed freedom, his killed sense of truly being a man? I just have one final question. What exactly are you referring to when you say "great space and isolation"? Just a general thought about farms/plantations?

  2. In a literal sense, the blood on the scythe is from the field rat that has been cut down and “squealing bleeds” (6). As Alex noted, this is the only emotion in the poem. But this indifference is the point. Andy asked if the blood represented “a killed laborer, his killed freedom, [or] his killed sense of truly being a man,” and I think it is all of the above. Toomer shows the mechanical reapers who systematically mow down black people both physically and mentally for apathetic advancement and as “a thing that’s done” (3). It is a very short work, but the last line leaves a visual image of reapers continuing on their way, with many more similar stories ahead to be imagined. It leaves an impression of lasting death and oppression.