Edwin Markham

Famous Poet, 1872 Graduate of the California State Normal School

Return to SJSU 
Legacy of Poetry
Biography and Photos Selected Poems Additional Links

Biography

by Professor Annette Nellen, Director of the Campus Reading Program

Edwin Markham graduated from the California State Normal School in 1872. Markham was a teacher, school administrator, poet, lecturer, champion of social issues, and good friend of the Normal School and its successor San José State Teachers College. Despite his world fame subsequent to the 1899 publication of his most famous poem - The Man with the Hoe, he remained involved with the campus in a number of ways. A handwritten copy of his poem “The Song Mystery,” appeared in the June 1904 edition of The Normal Pennant which also notes a letter the student editorial staff received from him. That letter (p 41) included this excerpt: "I thank you for your very kind thought of me and Mrs. Markham and she joins me in sending you and your class-comrades greetings and God-speed on the new life-path opening before you."

Markham delivered a lecture on campus in 1915 where President Dailey introduced him to an audience of more than 400 as “the most distinguished graduate” of the school. In the 1920s, Markham promoted the work of San Jose State Teachers College Professor Henry Meade Bland to help him to be named as the California Poet Laureate in 1929. In an article Markham wrote for the college paper about Bland’s appointment, Markham described poetry as follows:

Poetry writing is as practical as bread-making; and, from a high ground, it is just as necessary to the life of man. Poetry is bread for the spirit: it is the bread that is made of earthly wheat and yet is mixed with some mystic tincture of the skies. It nourishes all the higher hopes and aspirations of man.[1]

The May 1928 edition of The Quill, a publication by the English Club, was dedicated to Edwin Markham. Markham served as the judge of the student poetry contest for The Quill for that month. In his introduction to this edition, San Jose State Teachers College professor and poet, Dr. Henry Meade Bland noted that the “name Edwin Markham, is synonymous with all that is good and true in poetry.” Dr. Bland also noted Markham’s interest in social issues revealed in his poetry: “He has a picture of a social dream of happiness for humanity which, although it may be afar off, he believes the world will attain to. He is a disciple of beauty, and strives to arrive at this ideal in his lines. He is a serious student of contemporary thought and poetic art and perhaps knows the poetry of today better than any man now living.”

In 1932, the college held an assembly to honor Markham’s 80th birthday (he was born April 23, 1852). This was one of many such celebrations held to honor Mr. Markham. The college paper noted that a celebration in New York would include representatives from 63 countries and that “San Jose State may well be proud of fostering such a famous man.”[2] On November 27, 1933, the Pegasus Club for creative writing sponsored a lecture by Mr. Markham on campus. [click here to read one of the college newspaper articles about the event]

Markham resided in San Jose for some time. His famous poem, “The Man with the Hoe,” was written in a small home at 432 South Eighth Street.[3] While the house has been moved to History Park and serves as headquarters of Poetry Center San José, a plaque has been placed at the original site which is next to the AS Child Development Center.[4]

Markham wrote several books of poetry: The Man with the Hoe and Other Poems; Lincoln, and Other Poems; The Shoes of Happiness, and Other Poems; and New Poems: Eighty Songs at Eighty. He also wrote a book about one of his labor concerns in Children in Bondage: The Child Labor Problems. In addition, he published a 10-volume work on poetry entitled The Book of Poetry. One of his poems - “Lincoln, the Man of the People,” was read by Markham at the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC on May 30, 1922.

Markham died on March 7, 1940 at his home in New York. The obituary in the New York Times (3/8/40) referred to Mr. Markham as the “dean of American poets.”  It also referred to his most famous poem – “The Man with the Hoe,” as likely being the world’s most profitable poem earning Markham about $250,000 over 33 years. The San Francisco Chronicle (3/8/40) noted that at the time of his death, Markham had over 30,000 books of poetry, history and philosophy in his Staten Island home.

While Markham appears to have been somewhat of a celebrity from 1899 to his death in 1940, he is not as well known today. One writer suggests that this obscurity stems from Markham’s continued focus on societal issues in his poetry rather than shifting to the 20th century style of such poets as Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot.[5] Markham’s archives are housed primarily at Wagner College in New York where Markham’s son Virgil was chair of the English Department in 1940.[6]


[1] Markham , “Old Friendship Between Poets Inspiring,” State College Times, March 22, 1929.

[2] “Assembly To Be Held Tomorrow In Poet’s Honor, State College Times, April 20, 1932.

[3] Gilbert, Pioneers for One Hundred Years, p. 127.

[5] William R. Nash, Edwin Markham biography in American National Biography, Oxford University Press, Vol. 14; also available at http://www.english.uiuc.edu/maps/poets/m_r/markham/life.htm.

[6] Wagner College Library. This site includes biographical information on Markham as well as some of his poetry.

Photos of Markham:

Selected Poems

  • "The Man with the Hoe"
    • Edwin Markham is best known for this world-famous poem published in the San Francisco Examiner on January 15, 1899. It was subsequently published in thousands of magazines and journals and widely critiqued and discussed.
    • Described by Jay William Hudson as "the battle-cry of the next thousand years." [Source: Markham's The Shoes of Happiness and Other Poems, page 192.]
    • The full text of this poem can be found at the Wagner College site by clicking here.
    • The Millet painting is at The Getty Museum in Los Angeles
  • "Outwitted"

    • This poem is the first one in Markham's book - The Shoes of Happiness and Other Poems. It is also on a plaque displayed on the northwest corner of Tower Hall.

    • Full text:

    Outwitted
    He drew a circle that shut me out
    Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
    But love and I had the wit to win:
    We drew a circle that took him in!

    • Click here to hear a recording of Markham reciting this poem (from Wagner College).
  • "Preparedness"

    • Full text:

   Preparedness

   For all your days prepare,

   And meet them ever alike:

   When you are the anvil, bear

    When you are the hammer, strike.

  • "The Song Mystery"
    • A handwritten and signed copy of this appeared in the Normal School Pennant of June 1904.
    • This poem also appeared in Markham's Shoes of Happiness and Other Poems (page 3).
    • Full text:

    The Song Mystery

    If it touches the heart of a Poet

    The gods and the ages will know it,

    For over the waters and crags of time,

    The winds of the worlds will blow it.

     

    If ever the Bard shall bring it,

    The hands of the Fates will wing it;

    And lo, it will travel from world to world,

    Till the kings of Orion sing it!

     

  • "Lincoln, Man of the People"

    • This poem was read by Markham at the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC on May 30, 1922.

    • Also included in Elson Grammar School Literature, Book 4, edited by William H. Elson and Christine Keck (1912); available online at Project Gutenberg.

    • Click here for the complete text from Wagner College.
  • "A Workman To The Gods"

    • This poem appeared in Markham's book - The Shoes of Happiness and Other Poems (page 101).

A Workman To The Gods

Once Phidias stood, with hammer in his hand,

Carving Minerva from the breathing stone,

Tracing with love the winding of a hair,

A single hair upon her head, whereon

A youth of Athens cried, "O Phidias,

Why do you dally on a hidden hair?

When she is lifted to the lofty front

Of the Parthenon, no human eye will see."

And Phidias thundered on him: "Silence, slave:

Men will not see, but the Immortals will!"

  • "The Old Earth"

    • This poem appeared in Markham's book - The Man with the Hoe and Other Poems (page 106).

    The Old Earth

    How will it be if there we find no traces -

    There in the Golden Heaven - if we find

    No memories of the old Earth left behind,

    No visions of familiar forms and faces -

    Reminders of old voices and old places?

    Yet could we bear it if it should remind?

     

  • "The Joy of the Hills"

    • Reprinted in The Little Book of Modern Verse, edited by Jessie B. Rittenhouse (1917).

    • This poem appeared in Scribner's Magazine, Vol. 18, Issue 6, pages 704-705 (Dec. 1895) and Markham's book, The Man with the Hoe and Other Poems (1899), page 90.

The Joy of the Hills

I ride on the mountain tops, I ride;
I have found my life and am satisfied.
Onward I ride in the blowing oats,
Checking the field-lark's rippling notes --
Lightly I sweep
From steep to steep:
Over my head through the branches high
Come glimpses of a rushing sky;
The tall oats brush my horse's flanks;
Wild poppies crowd on the sunny banks;
A bee booms out of the scented grass;
A jay laughs with me as I pass.

I ride on the hills, I forgive, I forget
Life's hoard of regret --
All the terror and pain
Of the chafing chain.
Grind on, O cities, grind:
I leave you a blur behind.
I am lifted elate -- the skies expand:
Here the world's heaped gold is a pile of sand.
Let them weary and work in their narrow walls:
I ride with the voices of waterfalls!

I swing on as one in a dream -- I swing
Down the airy hollows, I shout, I sing!
The world is gone like an empty word:
My body's a bough in the wind, my heart a bird!

Return to SJSU 
Legacy of Poetry

Additional Links


This page last updated May 1, 2010

Questions or comments? Please contact us at
annette.nellen@sjsu.edu


Children in Bondage - A Complete and Careful Presentation of the Anxious Problem of Child Labor - its Causes, its Crimes, and its Cure

 by Edwin Markham, Ben B. Lindsey and George Creel; Published by Hearst's International Library Co, NY, 1914; $1.50.

The authors begin by noting that the 1900 Census indicated that about 2 million children were wage earners. Markham wrote 11 of the chapters including the ones that detailed the nature of the work children were engaged in including working in glass factories, sweatshops, coal mines, the tobacco industry, canneries, street peddling, and holiday workers making decorations and boxing gift items. In Chapter VI (p. 122), Markham comments on the holiday related work some children were engaged in:

"Three months before Christmas the smaller confectionary establishments call in troops of little children and begin full work and overtime work, making ready for the brave pomp of the holidays. There must be preparation of the bulging paper sack and the swollen tarlatan bag of the Christmas tree, for the bottle of straited sticks, and the pudgy "sucker" with its noble lasting quality. Tons upon tons of candy must be prepared for the holiday markets. What irony of civilization is this - one band of children wasting their bodies and souls to make a little joy for the rest? What sardonic mind conceived the caricature of justice, this burlesque of life?"

Markham's co-authors questioned how a Christian nation could allow so many children to labor, be "robbed of proper schooling," and be denied play and laughter. They called child labor the "Great American Cancer" that "eats at the body and it eats at the soul; it saddens today and it damns tomorrow." (p. 297-301)

The solutions identified by the authors included laws, educational reforms to help students learn to think, the merger of general education and vocational training, pension laws to help widows, and workers compensation laws.

Book is available in the King Library Special Collection (HD6250.U3 M3) and online at BoondocksNet.com.

Return to main text.


Plaque displayed on the northwest side of Tower Hall at SJSU. The punctuation was left out (see above for the proper punctuation).

Return to main text.