McCormick’s Reaper

There are a few elements Robyn Schiff’s “McCormick’s Reaper” that holds the poem together and to allow it to become more than simply a catalogue of object traits.

The historical content of this poem is important to note. I was first introduced to McCormick’s Reaper (the actual machine and not the poem) in a marketing class. McCormick invented a horse-drawn machine with a wheel of sickles that followed behind. This wheel chopped down the wheat. The Reaper was much more efficient  in harvesting  wheat by hand, but because it was the only one of its kind, the price was jacked up extremely high. It also took a few tries to get the machine perfect. In reference to Schiff’s poem, the structure of the lines resemble the image of the blades on the Reaper. It is also through Schiff’s words that express the general idea of this:

“isolates / the wheat” -what the machine does
“an acre gives ten men / to only five” -how many people it takes
“I rise, my guarantee.” -the price

Another interesting thing that holds this poem together is the speaker. There is a strong voice that comes through. It is interesting to think that Robyn Schiff places herself back in the 1800’s and writes in the persona of Cyrus McCormick.

Also, Schiff focuses a lot of the syllable count. Each one of the first four stanza starts off with a line that has 8 syllables, followed by one that has 6. The other two line vary between 6 and 10 syllables.

I had some trouble connecting the final staza to the rest of the poem in more ways than one. Introduction of the “rattlesnake” really throws me for a loops. This stanza also breaks the syllable form; every line has 9 syllables in it.


2 Responses to “McCormick’s Reaper”

  1. stephroush Says:

    You an James both comment about the rattlesnake introduced in the end of the poem. It does feel like a real turning point with the “I rise” and rattlesnake part. I’m not sure that I feel strongly about my interpretation, but I think it is completely dependent on who you think is speaking. I could see Cyrus McCormick as being the persona and then perhaps “I rise” is his persona extended through the machine. The line: “I rise, my guarantee,” points out an investment in constant production and perhaps Robyn Schiff is getting at that unending mechanic labor that begins with these types of inventions. Then, with the snake, it getting caught up and perhaps bound with the rest of the stalks points to the machine’s inability to differentiate. Points to the absent human presence? I really can’t be certain. Part of me wants to read the ending like the Reaper is personified and speaking, but it doesn’t seem to fit with the opening of the poem. Does that make any sense?

  2. superduder Says:

    I actually agree with Chelsea and James in relation to the turning point of the poem. I also noticed that the last stanza breaks the syllable form; every line has 9 syllables in it. I do not feel strongly about my interpretation of the poem, but I think that the speaker is the most interesting aspect. The separation of poet and speaker is something that I often have trouble with in my poetry, so it was nice to see a writer successfully one up me. I did not read in to the syllable count mainly because I do not find it interesting, but there could be some meaning behind it. Robyn Schiff’s poem, “McCormick’s Reaper” was mainly appealing to me because of the speaker, but the historical content was also something that I would like to incorporate into one of my poems.

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