Jean Toomer’s poem, Reapers is rich with images that develop a unique emotion to the reader. In this poem the use of intense, passionate, and dark images combines with form to leave the reader in anticipation. As noticed throughout the poem, the use of the word “reaper” to define a laborer seems to insinuate a negative connotation. Although the words in this poem develop the theme, the structure is what leaves the reader in anticipation.
When reading Reapers, it is hard to pull yourself from the intense imagery of “[reapers] sharpening his scythe”, or “black horse [driving] a mower through the weeds” (2, 5). However, in order to understand the path, motion, and future of the poem we, as a reader must understand the importance of form.
In this poem Jean Toomer uses a single octave, developed with a couplet rhyme (aabbccdd) to form a sonnet. Although these specific features of the poem are important, I tend to focus around the two periods placed throughout the poem. In the poem each period concludes four lines, or two sets of couplets. When understanding this poem it is noticeable the shift in how labor is completed: these shifts are transitioned by the use of a period. These first two lines of the poem focus around the actual “reaper” (human) as the source of labor: “Black reapers with the sound of steel on stones / Are sharpening scythes /… / And start their silent swinging, one by one” (1-4). After the fourth line of the poem concludes with a period, the next line picks up with an innovation of physical labor: a mower. The last four lines develop the use of a mower as an alternative way to cut weeds: “Black horses drive a mower through the weeds” (5). Among these four lines, there is a gruesome encounter between a mower and a field rat. The last line of the poem concludes with a period, thus symbolizing an innovation in physical labor. However, unlike the first four lines of the poem, you (the reader) are left in anticipation of what comes next.
Jean Toomer’s use of poetic structure as a way to tell, without directly saying, an innovation in how manual labor was completed. Although the poem ends with a period, that doesn’t mean that the reader does.