Please note that the poems and essays on this site are copyright and may not be reproduced without the author's permission.

Wednesday 21 May 2014

Edwin Markham: In Death Valley


Mesquite dunes, seen from Mosaic Canyon, Death Valley: photo by Jody Miller, 22 April 2014

There came gray stretches of volcanic plains,   
Bare, lone and treeless, then a bleak lone hill
Like to the dolorous hill that Dobell saw.   
Around were heaps of ruins piled between   
The Burn o’ Sorrow and the Water o’ Care;   
And from the stillness of the down-crushed walls
One pillar rose up dark against the moon.   
There was a nameless Presence everywhere;   
In the gray soil there was a purple stain,   
And the gray reticent rocks were dyed with blood --
Blood of a vast unknown Calamity.            
It was the mark of some ancestral grief --
Grief that began before the ancient Flood.

Edwin Markham (Charles Edward Anson Markham, b. Oregon City, Oregon, 23 April 1852 -- d. Staten Island, New York, 7 March 1940): In Death Valley, from The Man with the Hoe and Other Poems (1899)


Zabriskie Point sunrise, Death Valley: photo by Jody Miller, 22 April 2014

Black volcanic sand, Death Valley. Near the Ubehebe Crater. The light has an unearthly glow: photo by Jody Miller, 21 April 2014

Mesquite dunes at sunset, Death Valley: photo by Jody Miller, 21 April 2014

Mesquite dunes, early morning light, Death Valley National Park: photo by Jody Miller, 22 April 2014


Curtis Faville said...

I've spent many a fascinating day photographing at the Death Valley Dunes.

I once saw a fox trotting across a dune-face not more than a 100 years away. The way the dunes lie, it's possible not to be aware of something moving nearby. The sand kills the sound of walking, and you don't hear stuff happening the other side of a sand hill.

I hope to go back again soon with my 8x10.

Poet Red Shuttleworth said...

Stunning, beautiful, harsh country... well photographed... with a grand poem from Markham. Thank you, Tom!!!

TC said...

Many thanks, Curtis and Red.

I've been reading this little-known poet with some interest.

A bit of biography:

"Markham was born Charles Edwin Anson Markham in Oregon City in the Oregon Territory, the son of Samuel Barzillai Markham and Elizabeth Winchell, a rancher. Shortly after Markham’s birth, his parents divorced, and he remained with his mother. In 1856 they moved to a ranch near Suisun, California, where Markham learned to do manual labor and from which his siblings gradually departed to escape their mother's oppressive presence. Markham himself ran away briefly in 1867, returning only when his mother agreed to help subsidize his education. He studied at California College in Vacaville, receiving teacher's certification, and subsequently at both San Jose Normal School and Christian College in Santa Rosa.

"Markham began teaching in 1872 in Los Berros, California; in 1874 he moved to Coloma, where he was a popular and prominent figure. There he entered the first of his three marriages, wedding Annie Cox in 1875. They relocated to Placerville, California, where Markham was employed as a school administrator. At about the same time, Markham fell under the influence of Thomas Lake Harris, whom Joseph Slade describes as 'a poet, spiritualist, socialist, and charlatan'. Markham’s interest in Harris's esoteric ideas shaped much of his intellectual and artistic development, and even in his earliest published poetry, which appeared in 1880, one can see the imprint of Harris's ideology.

"Markham's first marriage failed in 1884, probably largely owing to his affair with Elizabeth Senter; Senter died in 1885, leaving Markham alone again. He soon entered another relationship, this time with Caroline Bailey, whom he subsequently married under duress in 1887. She moved out when Markham's mother joined their household, and she died in 1893. In Oakland in 1898 Markham married his third and final wife, Anna Catherine Murphy, with whom he had a son. Anna was Markham's 'collaborator and editor' until her death in 1938.

"Throughout the 1880s and 1890s Markham continued his teaching career and worked hard to establish himself as an important poetic voice. He published several individual poems and sought the insight of established literary figures such as Hamlin Garland and Ambrose Bierce regarding what direction he should take with his verse. Garland encouraged him to emphasize the realistic, while Bierce praised him for his idealism. Ultimately, however, Markham turned to his mystic beliefs and his interest in the difficulties of poor working people and crafted the poem that made him famous: 'The Man with the Hoe.'''

"'The Man with the Hoe' was a strong commentary on America's working class and their tribulations. Inspired by French artist François Millet's 1862 woodcut, also titled The Man with the Hoe, Markham's poem was first published in the San Francisco Examiner on 15 January 1899. The work vividly describes the oppressed day laborer and sends a challenge to the larger society as well.

"The poem was well received and spread almost immediately across the country. In line with the reform movements of its day, "The Man with the Hoe' sparked a great deal of controversy. Clergy made the poem their text; platform orators dilated upon it; college professors lectured upon it; debating societies discussed it; schools took it up for study in their literary courses; and it was the subject of conversation in social circles and on the streets.

TC said...


"The success of 'The Man with the Hoe,' which was reprinted literally thousands of times in dozens of languages before Markham's death, paved the way for Markham's advancement and also became the title work of his first book of poetry, The Man with the Hoe and Other Poems (1899).'
On the strength of his first book, Markham received a request to write a poem commemorating Abraham Lincoln's birthday in 1900. He first read 'Lincoln, the Man of the People' in New York before the celebration, and once again the newspapers picked it up and spread it across the nation. The poem was again well received, both in print and when Markham read it at the birthday ceremonies; he read it publicly again in 1922 at the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial. "Lincoln" did much to further strengthen Markham's growing reputation; Jack London compared Markham's poem favorably with Whitman’s 'O Captain, My Captain' and suggested that in the future, Markham's would be the poetic name most closely associated with the fallen leader's legacy.

"In 1901 Markham published his second volume, Lincoln and Other Poems. After that first burst of creative output, Markham's productivity slowed dramatically. His third volume of poetry, The Shoes of Happiness, did not appear until 1915; his fourth, The Gates of Paradise, appeared in 1920, and his final book, New Poems: Eighty Songs at Eighty, was published in 1932. Between publications, Markham lectured and wrote in other genres, including essays and nonfiction prose. He also gave much of his time to organizations such as the Poetry Society of America, which he established in 1910. Throughout Markham's later life, many readers viewed him as an important voice in American poetry, a position signified by honors such as his election in 1908 to the National Institute of Arts and Letters. Despite his numerous accolades, however, none of his later books achieved the success of the first two.

"The change in Markham’s literary significance has been tied to the development of modernist poetry and his steadfast refusal to change to meet the increasing demands arising with the appearance of poets such as Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, and William Carlos Williams. Their emphasis on changes in literary forms and their movement away from social commentary and political topics made much of what distinguished Markham's verse dated. He gradually fell from critical favor, and his reputation never fully recovered."

-- William R. Nash, excerpts from Edwin Markham's entry in American National Biography, 1999

TC said...

From beyond "the silence of the centuries", a re-animated Edwin Markham, undaunted by a Higgs-Bosun particle-swarm in Brownian Motion, gets his own back