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‘Reapers’ is a short poem written by Jean Toomer. It revolves around the tumultuous life the Black community is forced to live.
About the Poet:
Jean Toomer (1894-1967) was a notable African-American poet. He is known for his resistance to the Harlem Renaissance. Famous works of his include ‘Cane’, ‘The Wayward and the Seeking’, and ‘Essentials’.
Explanation of the Poem:
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.
The poem begins with ‘Black reapers’ sharpening their scythes and the sound it produces. Here, ‘Black reapers’ signifies African-Americans. The monotony of their life is then revealed for all they have to do is silently swing their blades and toil away for the benefit of others.
Next, the image of ‘Black horses’ driving a ‘mower through the weeds’ is invoked. The repetition of ‘Black’ here clearly implies how the Black community is reduced to the status of an animal solely used for the purpose of mindless work.Lastly, the image of a mouse being killed emotionlessly is portrayed.
Ironically here, both the ‘Black reaper’ and the ‘field mouse’ symbolize the Black Community. They are oppressed and discriminated against so much that anything and everything is numb to them. The mouse being killed mercilessly also represents the state of the Blacks, how they are trodden upon without a moment’s hesitation.
This is a poem rich with figurative language. It skillfully employs various images to shed light on the discrimination of the Black Community.