Harvest Song

By Jean Toomer 1894–1967 Jean Toomer
I am a reaper whose muscles set at sun-down. All my oats are cradled.
But I am too chilled, and too fatigued to bind them. And I hunger.

I crack a grain between my teeth. I do not taste it.
I have been in the fields all day. My throat is dry. I hunger.

My eyes are caked with dust of oat-fields at harvest-time.
I am a blind man who stares across the hills, seeking stack’d fields
     of other harvesters.

It would be good to see them . . . crook’d, split, and iron-ring’d handles
     of the scythes . . . It would be good to see them, dust-caked and
     blind. I hunger.

(Dusk is a strange fear’d sheath their blades are dull’d in.)
My throat is dry. And should I call, a cracked grain like the oats
     . . . eoho—

I fear to call. What should they hear me, and offer me their grain,
     oats, or wheat or corn? I have been in the fields all day. I fear
     I could not taste it. I fear knowledge of my hunger.

My ears are caked with dust of oat-fields at harvest-time.
I am a deaf man who strains to hear the calls of other harvesters whose
     throats are also dry.

It would be good to hear their songs . . . reapers of the sweet-stalked
     cane, cutters of the corn . . . even though their throats cracked, and
     the strangeness of their voices deafened me.

I hunger. My throat is dry. Now that the sun has set and I am chilled.
     I fear to call. (Eoho, my brothers!)

I am a reaper. (Eoho!) All my oats are cradled. But I am too fatigued
     to bind them. And I hunger. I crack a grain. It has no taste to
     it. My throat is dry . . .

O my brothers, I beat my palms, still soft, against the stubble of my
     harvesting. (You beat your soft palms, too.) My pain is sweet.
     Sweeter than the oats or wheat or corn. It will not bring me
     knowledge of my hunger.

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Poet Jean Toomer 1894–1967

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

SCHOOL / PERIOD Harlem Renaissance

Subjects Activities, Jobs & Working, Eating & Drinking, Nature, The Body, Social Commentaries, Class

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Jean  Toomer

Biography

An important figure in African-American literature, Jean Toomer (1894—1967) was born in Washington, DC, the grandson of the first governor of African-American descent in the United States. A poet, playwright, and novelist, Toomer’s most famous work, Cane, was published in 1923 and was hailed by critics for its literary experimentation and portrayal of African-American characters and culture.

As a child, Toomer attended both . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Activities, Jobs & Working, Eating & Drinking, Nature, The Body, Social Commentaries, Class

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

SCHOOL / PERIOD Harlem Renaissance

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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