Sunday, May 1, 2011

If We Must Die

If We Must Die
Claude McKay

In this classic poem from the Harlem Renaissance, we see the power of poetry. This poem has been used for generations of people to stand tall in the face of oppression. Not only did North American African use this poem in the 20s to signal resistence to American oppression, but European Sir Winston Churchill used it to rally his people to oppose Hitler's Nazism during WWII. In the 1960s, Black revolutionaries made it our National anthem in the Black Arts/Black Liberation movement. And surely the people of North Africa and the Middle East express the spirit of this poem.


If We Must Die

by Claude McKay
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—oh, 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!
Oh, Kinsmen! We must meet the common foe;
Though far outnumbered, let us show us brave,
And for their thousand blows deal one deathblow!
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!

Claude McKay is regarded as one of the first significant writers of the Harlem Renaissance. Born in Jamaica, he arrived in the United States in 1912 at the age of 21 and had already gained recognition as a poet with his book Songs of Jamaica, published in 1911. He attended Tuskegee Institute and Kansas State University, then traveled to New York and participated in the literary movements there, both in Harlem and in Greenwich Village. His sonnet, "If We Must Die," is his most popular poem. He earned his living as a porter on the railroad and was a resident of Harlem.

His book of poems, Harlem Shadows, published in 1922, was a precursor to the Harlem Renaissance. He also became associate editor of The Liberator, a socialist magazine of art and literature. Working closely with Max Eastman, he traveled to Moscow in 1923 in sympathy with the Bolshevik Revolution and became a sort of national hero there. Other books by Claude McKay include Banjo, Harlem: Negro Metropolis, and his autobiography, A Long Way From Home. Home to Harlem, published in the spring of 1928, became the first novel by a Harlem writer to reach the bestseller list.

1 comment:

  1. Poetry is the syrup of verse,not for its sweetness perse. The viscosity of verse condences volumes spoken intpo a few paragraphs. The power of the poem lies within the few lines used to impact a visual imagery.