Selected Poems by Claude McKayIn his 1918 autobiographical essay, A Negro Poet Writes, Claude McKay (1889–1948), reveals much about the wellspring of his poetry.
I am a black man, born in Jamaica, B.W.I., and have been living in America for the last years. It was the first time I had ever come face to face with such manifest, implacable hate of my race, and my feelings were indescribable … Looking about me with bigger and clearer eyes I saw that this cruelty in different ways was going on all over the world. Whites were exploiting and oppressing whites even as they exploited and oppressed the yellows and blacks. And the oppressed, groaning under the leash, evinced the same despicable hate and harshness toward their weaker fellows. I ceased to think of people and things in the mass. [O]ne must seek for the noblest and best in the individual life only: each soul must save itself.
So wrote the first major poet of the Harlem Renaissance, whose collection of poetry, Harlem Shadows (1922), is widely regarded as having launched the movement. But McKays literary significance goes far beyond his fierce condemnations of racial bigotry and oppression, as is amply demonstrated by the universal appeal of his sonnet, If We Must Die, recited by Winston Churchill in a speech against the Nazis in World War II.
While in Jamaica, McKay produced two works of dialect verse, Songs of Jamaica and Constab Ballads, that were widely read on the island. In richly authentic dialect, the poet evoked the folksongs and peasant life of his native country. The present volume, meticulously edited and with an introduction by scholar Joan R. Sherman, includes a representative selection of this dialect verse, as well as uncollected poems, and a generous number in standard English from Harlem Shadows.
Claude McKay Poetry on the Metro Blue Line
As Arthur D. But having preserved his vision as poet and his status as a human being, he can transcend bitterness. In seeing His human pity was the foundation that made all this possible. The son of peasant farmers, he was infused with racial pride and a great sense of his African heritage. His early literary interests, though, were in English poetry. It was Jekyll who advised aspiring poet McKay to cease mimicking the English poets and begin producing verse in Jamaican dialect.
Claude McKay was a Jamaican-American writer and poet. His book of poetry, Harlem Shadows was among the first books published during the Harlem Renaissance. His book of collected poems, Selected Poems , was published posthumously. McKay was attracted to communism in his early life, but he was never a member Click here to add this poet to your My Favorite Poets. Why is some of Claude McKay's poems missing?
His poetry collection, Harlem Shadows , was among the first books published during the Harlem Renaissance.
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McKay moved to Harlem, New York, after publishing his first books of poetry, and established himself as a literary voice for social justice during the Harlem Renaissance. His mother and father spoke proudly of their respective Malagasy and Ashanti heritage. McKay blended his African pride with his love of British poetry. He studied poetry and philosophy with Englishman Walter Jekyll, who encouraged the young man to begin producing poetry in his own Jamaican dialect. In , he moved to New York City, settling in Harlem. McKay published his next poems in under the pseudonym Eli Edwards.