Edwin Markham

Edwin Markham Biography

Charles Edwin Anson Markham was an American poet.

Life

Edwin Markham was born in Oregon City, Oregon and was the youngest of 10 children; his parents divorced shortly after his birth. At the age of four, he moved to Lagoon Valley, an area northeast of San Francisco; there, he lived with his sister and mother. He worked on the family’s farm beginning at twelve. Although his mother was opposed to his pursuing higher education, he studied literature at the California College in Vacaville, California, and received his teacher's certificate in 1870. In 1872 he graduated from San Jose State Normal School, and in 1873 finished his studies of classics at Christian College in Santa Rosa. He went by "Charles" until about 1895, when he was about 43, when he started using "Edwin".

In 1898, Markham married his third wife, Anna Catherine Murphy (1859–1938) and in 1899 their son Virgil was born. They moved to New York City in 1901, where they lived in Brooklyn and then Staten Island. Edwin Markham had, by the time of his death, amassed a huge personal library of 15 000+ volumes. This collection was bequeathed to Wagner College's Horrmann Library, located on Staten Island. Markham also willed his personal papers to the library. Edwin's correspondents included Franklin D. Roosevelt, Ambrose Bierce, Jack and Charmian London, Carl Sandburg, Florence Earle Coates and Amy Lowell

Career

Markham taught literature in El Dorado County until 1879, when he became education superintendent of the county. While residing in El Dorado County, Markham became a member of Placerville Masonic Lodge. Charles also accepted a job as principal of Tompkins Observation School in Oakland, California in 1890. While in Oakland, he became well acquainted with many other famous contemporary writers and poets, such as Joaquin Miller, Ina Coolbrith, Charles Warren Stoddard, and Edmund Clarence Stedman.

Edwin's most famous poem was first presented at a public poetry reading in 1898. He read "The Man With the Hoe," which accented laborers' hardships. His main inspiration was a French painting of the same name (in French, L'homme à la houe) by Jean-François Millet. Markham's poem was published, and it became quite popular very soon. In New York, he gave many lectures to labor groups. These happened as often as his poetry readings.

In 1922, Markham's poem "Lincoln, the Man of the People" was selected from 250 entries to be read at the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial. The author himself, read the poem. Of it, Dr. Henry Van Dyke, of Princeton said,"Edwin Markham's Lincoln is the greatest poem ever written on the immortal martyr, and the greatest that ever will be written." Later that year, Markham was filmed reciting the poem by Lee De Forest in his Phonofilm sound-on-film process.

As recounted by literary biographer William R. Nash,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. In 1922, at the conclusion to the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial, Markham read a revised version of his poem, "Lincoln the Man of the People. 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.

Legacy

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.

"Nevertheless, despite the critics' increasing disenchantment with him, Markham remained an important public figure, traveling across the nation and receiving warm praise nearly everywhere he went. At his home on Staten Island, his birthday was a local school holiday, and children marked the event by covering his lawn with flowers. The crowning glory came on Markham’s eightieth birthday, when a number of prominent citizens, including President Herbert Hoover, honored his accomplishments at a party in Carnegie Hall and named him one of the most important artists of his age. In 1936 Markham suffered a debilitating stroke from which he never fully recovered; he died at his home on Staten Island, New York.

"In his day Markham managed to fuse art and social commentary in a manner that guaranteed him a place among the most famous artists of the late nineteenth century. His reputation has faded because of the somewhat dated nature of his verse; nevertheless, he remains a notable figure for his contributions to American poetry. His work stands as an example of what American critics and readers valued near the turn of the century. His poetry offers insight into an important phase in the development of American letters."

The Best Poem Of Edwin Markham

The Man With The Hoe (Written After Seeing Millet's World-Famous Painting)

Bowed by the weight of centuries he leans
Upon his hoe and gazes on the ground,
The emptiness of ages in his face,
And on his back the burden of the world.
Who made him dead to rapture and despair,
A thing that grieves not and that never hopes,
Stolid and stunned, a brother to the ox?
Who loosened and let down this brutal jaw?
Whose was the hand that slanted back this brow?
Whose breath blew out the light within this brain?
Is this the Thing the Lord God made and gave
To have dominion over sea and land;
To trace the stars and search the heavens for power;
To feel the passion of Eternity?
Is this the Dream He dreamed who shaped the suns
And marked their ways upon the ancient deep?
Down all the stretch of Hell to its last gulf
There is no shape more terrible than this --
More tongued with censure of the world's blind greed --
More filled with signs and portents for the soul --
More fraught with menace to the universe.

What gulfs between him and the seraphim!
Slave of the wheel of labor, what to him
Are Plato and the swing of Pleiades?
What the long reaches of the peaks of song,
The rift of dawn, the reddening of the rose?
Through this dread shape the suffering ages look;
Time's tragedy is in that aching stoop;
Through this dread shape humanity betrayed,
Plundered, profaned and disinherited,
Cries protest to the Judges of the World,
A protest that is also prophecy.

O masters, lords and rulers in all lands,
Is this the handiwork you give to God,
This monstrous thing distorted and soul-quenched?
How will you ever straighten up this shape;
Touch it again with immortality;
Give back the upward looking and the light;
Rebuild in it the music and the dream;
Make right the immemorial infamies,
Perfidious wrongs, immedicable woes?

O masters, lords and rulers in all lands,
How will the Future reckon with this Man?
How answer his brute question in that hour
When whirlwinds of rebellion shake the world?
How will it be with kingdoms and with kings --
With those who shaped him to the thing he is --
When this dumb Terror shall reply to God,
After the silence of the centuries?

Edwin Markham Comments

Barbara Samuels 30 December 2017

My mother just recently passed away and she referred to an Edwin Markham poem called Leadership? I cannot find this poem anywhere? Is it possible this title she referred to is incorrect and has another name? Thank you!

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