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Edwin Markham (1852–1940) was an American poet who emerged as a significant figure in American literature at the turn of the 20th century. He is best known for his socially conscious poetry and his masterpiece, "The Man with the Hoe," which catapulted him to fame and sparked much debate due to its progressive social message.

Markham's literary background was grounded in the formal traditions of the 19th century, but he was heavily influenced by the social upheavals and the progressive political movements of his time. His style bridged the gap between the traditional verse of the Victorian era and the more socially-engaged poetry that would come to characterize much of the 20th century. The early influences on his work include the Bible, the works of Thomas Carlyle, and the poetry of Walt Whitman, whose free verse and democratic ideals left a mark on Markham's own poetic voice.

He is often associated with the populist and progressive movements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. While not directly connected with any particular school or movement in poetry, Markham’s work is aligned with the Social Gospel movement, which applied Christian ethics to social problems, particularly issues of social justice such as economic inequality and labor rights.

Markham's poetic oeuvre is characterized by its humanitarian themes and advocacy for the underprivileged. His poems often explore the plight of the laborer, the injustice of the social system, and the dignity of the human spirit in the face of hardship. "The Man with the Hoe," inspired by Jean-François Millet's painting, is a poignant example of this, as it reflects on the harsh lives of the laboring class and criticizes the societal structures that enforce such conditions.

Beyond his most famous poem, Markham's body of work often dealt with themes of social justice, Christian morality, and a quest for meaning in a rapidly changing world. He believed in the power of poetry to incite change and raise awareness about social issues.

His influence was felt not just in literary circles but also in social activism. Markham’s poetry was used to rally people behind various progressive causes. He was often involved in readings and public events that had significant social and political dimensions.

Throughout his career, Markham was a recipient of numerous honors, including being chosen to read his poetry at the New York Lincoln Memorial in 1922, and receiving the American Academy of Arts and Letters medal in 1937 for his unique contribution to American literature.

In conclusion, Edwin Markham's work embodies the intersection of art and advocacy, and his poems remain significant for their passionate engagement with the social issues of his time. His legacy as a poet is defined by his commitment to using his craft to shine a light on injustice and to speak for those who could not speak for themselves. His work continues to be studied not only for its literary merit but also for its historical significance as part of the progressive movement in American history. Markham’s voice is a testament to the belief that poetry can indeed serve as a catalyst for social change.

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