“The Man with the Hoe” is one of Edwin Markham’s most famous works. It was first published in 1898. It was inspired by a painting of Jean-Francois Millet, a French artist. Markham’s semi-mystical poetry reflected America’s changing culture and was also influenced by the Social Gospel. The poem was a political statement, but it also addressed themes of oppressed labor as well as the rising social consciousness.
After the success of his “hoe poem”, Markham moved to the East Coast where he settled in Westerleigh, Staten Island. He finally settled at 92 Waters Avenue where he lived the rest of his life. Although Markham was active in politics, his poetry was primarily about the human experience.
Markham’s 13-year career spanned 13 year, starting as a young boy. He hated the monotony of ranch work and worked at the family ranch. He decided to go to college to get a teacher’s license, despite his mother’s objections. He was a high-ranking school administrator, and an instructor. By the 1880s, he had begun placing poems in local journals. He sought out poets like Hamlin Garland and Ambrose Bierce for mentoring.
The “How the Great Guest Came” poem by Edwin Markham is a powerful and inspiring piece of poetry. It tells the story of Conrad, a humble cobbler living in a European village. His village considered him a saint. He adorned his shop with evergreen trees and bought the finest foods from the market. While waiting for his visitor to arrive, he was a good man, serving others.
Markham’s health began declining in the 1940s. His papers and 15,000-volume library were left to Wagner College in his will. These materials are the main source of Markham scholarship. Over 6,000 letters are being digitized by the Wagner College library. In the 1980s, Markham’s lectures were favored by labor groups, but his talks were free of socialist cant. In addition to the labor community, Markham was able to reach a wide audience, including the middle class.
From 250 submissions, Edwin Markham selected the “Lincoln, Man of the People” poem. The dedication of the Lincoln Memorial was a reading of the poem. It was deemed the “greatest poem ever written about a martyred immortal” and was recited by Markham. Lee De Forest captured Markham reading the poem onto film in 1922 using the sound-onfilm Phonofilm process. He also wrote several books about child labor.