Reapers By Jean Toomer “S “Reapers”, Poet & Novelist Jean Toomer&#39S, Reapers

The 1923 prose poem, “Reapers” by Jean Toomer possesses great technical skill in rhyme, meter, sounds, and the narrative arc. The poem is a simple picture of somebody chopping down weeds with their scythe and a machine mowing weeds down. The first image is arresting in both its imagery and sound quality; the reader feels as if they are in the same room and can here the “sound of steel on stones” (1). The speaker is first-person and is giving an account of seeing the actions of the reapers preparing to go to work. The image of them starting “their silent swinging” (4) is ominous and beautiful, and holds an immense amount of motion. The following line presents the next image, which is an echo of the first image, but this time we see “lack horses” opposed to “lack reapers.” This is the turn of the poem from being foreboding to actually capturing some horrible event, however meaningless the death was. The way in which Toomer presents the death of a field rat is so quick and painless, mimicking the death itself; his six line is written: “And there, a field rat, startled, squealing bleeds.” The image of the rat’s death is magnified by the constant rhythm of the slicing scythe that continues and stops for no death.

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The poem seems to be a conceit for some great, incessant evil that no body can endure or resist, whether it be races clashing, farmers being replaced by machines, or the overall trope of progress.

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Sharpening the Scythe (Kollwitz, Scythe 1905)

This is an unusual prose poem for the incorporation of an AA BB CC DD rhyme scheme. The short sentences at the end of the poem also help to achieve the somber tone and cyclical rhythm of the piece; the best example of this comes after the speaker witnesses the death of the rat and simply declares, “I see the blade” (7). The blade just keeps on cutting, without a care for the rat. Everything, the meter, the rhythm, the rhyming, the short sentences, the captivating imagery, all add to this feeling of endless destruction. The poem is also in iambic pentameter which reverberates the attempt of Claude McKay to incorporate unconventional material to a most classic poetic form, the sonnet. However, in Toomer’s case, it seems, that he doesn’t believe that his subject matter is worth the full sonnet. In this way, Toomer writes a poem that teases the sonnet form and mixes it with a prose poem filled with imagery. This poetic style matches his own mixed cultural heritage and is truly American it the sense of it being a melting pot of form and style.

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