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Transcript of Claude McKay
Sunnyville, Jamaica Early Career: Policeman in Spanish Town at 22-years old First Publication: "Songs of Jamaica" in 1912
at 22-years old. This book recorded his impressions of black life in Jamaica (written in dialect) Education: Educated by his older brother that possessed a plethora of books, but then came to America in 1912 where he attended Tuskegee Institute in Alabama and then went to Kansas State University Poem: "If We Must Die" was published in 1919 in Eastman's Journal In addition to social and political concerns, McKay wrote on a variety of subjects, from his Jamaican homeland to romantic love, with a use of passionate language. During the twenties, McKay developed an interest in Communism and traveled to Russia and then to France where he met Edna St. Vincent Millay and Lewis Sinclair (lyrical poets) In 1934, McKay moved back to the United States and lived in Harlem, New York. Losing faith in Communism, he turned his attention to the teachings of various spiritual and political leaders in Harlem, eventually converting to Catholicism. McKay's viewpoints and poetic achievements in the earlier part of the twentieth century set the tone for the Harlem Renaissance and gained the deep respect of younger black poets of the time. He died in 1948. Poetry:
Constab Ballads (1912)
Harlem Shadows (1922)
Selected Poems (1953)
Songs of Jamaica (1912)
The Dialect Poetry of Claude McKay (1972)
The Passion of Claude McKay (1973)
If We Must Die
Oh when I think of my long-suffering race,
For weary centuries despised, oppressed,
Enslaved and lynched, denied a human place
In the great life line of the Christian West;
And in the Black Land disinherited,
Robbed in the ancient country of its birth,
My heart grows sick with hate, becomes as lead,
For this my race that has no home on earth.
Then from the dark depths of my soul I cry
To the avenging angel to consume
The white man's world of wonders utterly:
Let it be swallowed up in earth's vast womb,
Or upward roll as sacrificial smoke
To liberate my people from its yoke! IfWe Must Die
If we must die, let it not be like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,
Making their mock at our accursed lot.
If we must die, O let us nobly die,
So that our precious blood may not be shed
In vain; then even the monsters we defy
Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!
O kinsmen! we must meet the common foe!
Though far outnumbered let us show us brave,
And for their thousand blows deal one death-blow!
What though before us lies the open grave?
Like men we'll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back! Analysis Historical Connection
Claude Mckay was a black poet who influenced America during the Harlem Renaissance greatly.
Most of his poems, such as the ones we have read in class, talk to the other minorities of the
time that they should not let the whites walk over them. McKay's poetry is very inspiring and
helped the black population stand up to the whites. Instead of being freed of slavery, but still suffering, these poets helped blacks obtain their rights. Harlem Renaissance
The Harlem Renaissance was a cultural movement
that spanned the 1920s and 1930s. At the time, it was known as the "New Negro Movement". Poets such
as Claude McKay really did have an influence on this movement because it was the motivation in
literature that got blacks their equality.
In the two poems, McKay refers to "hogs" and "hungry dogs" which shows the differences
between the black people and the white people; passive versus aggressive. "If We Must Die" tells of how the blacks should fight for their equality even if it means death because if they win now, the future will be better for their children. The motif in all of these
poems is equality and it is because of these poets that blacks were influenced and gained their rights.