Reapers

 

by Jean Toomer
 
Jean Toomer's poem, "Reapers", brings a sense of death to
the reader's mind. The speaker in the poem conveys a dark
mood and setting which provide imagery that virtually takes
the reader along on this journey with Death himself. As a
reader you start to feel a sense of despair. This powerful
one stanza poem does all that and more. 

In the very first line of this one stanza poem, Jean Toomer
has somewhat of an alliteration with the phrase "...the
sound of steel on stones." That phrase also creates sounds
in the background of the speaker's voice, sounds of the
reapers' scythes sharpening, ready to meet the next
challenge. At the beginning of that same line, the words
"Black reapers..." set the mood as being very dark and
empty, almost bleak. At the beginning of the second line, a
phrase is continued from the previous line, "...the sound
of steel on stones/Are sharpening scythes." That very
phrase imprints the picture of someone, something
preparing, preparing for what, you can't be too sure.
Continuing on that same line and the one below, you can
infer that the preparation is done and they are ready to
move on. The AB rhyme scheme brings you into the fourth
line of this eight line poem, "And their silent swinging,
one by one." As the reader, you can feel the brush of air
by your face as the number and power of the swings
increases. You can also hear sounds of chopping, slicing
destruction. It is precise, clean destruction though, as if
they know exactly what they are doing. Yet another image of
darkness is created by the words "Black horses" at the
beginning of the fifth line. They may also be a metaphor
for a man driving his mowers, that man who can "...drive a
mower through the weeds." And there, an unassuming field
rat is the next victim of this cruel dark predator. The
speaker creates a loud squeal and the sight of blood in
front of the reader's eyes, as if the dying field rat is
about to take its last breath in front of your very eyes.
With the next line, it is not yet dead, but trying to pull
itself closer to the ground, hoping the edge of that sharp
blade will not find him. "I see the blade/Blood-stained,
continue cutting weeds and shade." The speaker shows that
the man has no idea what has just gone on, the pain and
suffering of that one field rat. He continues doing his
work. His life has not been affected at all.