Claude McKay

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Claude McKay

Claude McKay (September 15, 1889 – May 22, 1948) was a writer and poet, who was a seminal figure in the Harlem Renaissance.


  • The shivering birds beneath the eaves
    Have sheltered for the night.
  • The pavement slabs burn loose beneath my feet,
    A chafing savage, down the decent street;
    And passion rends my vitals as I pass,
    Where boldly shines your shuttered door of glass.
    • The White House, l. 5-8
  • Oh, I must keep my heart inviolate
    Against the potent poison of your hate.
    • The White House, l. 13-14
  • 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!
  • Although she feeds me bread of bitterness,
    And sinks into my throat her tiger’s tooth,
    Stealing my breath of life, I will confess
    I love this cultured hell that tests my youth!
    • America, l. 1-4
  • The wine-flushed, bold-eyed boys, and even the girls,
    Devoured her with their eager, passionate gaze;
    But looking at her falsely-smiling face,
    I knew her self was not in that strange place.
    • The Harlem Dancer, l. 11-14
  • Deep in the secret chambers of my heart
    I muse my life-long hate, and without flinch
    I bear it nobly as I live my part.
    • The White City, l. 2-4
  • I have forgotten much, but still remember
    The poinsettia's red, blood-red in warm December.
    • Flame-Heart, l. 9-10
  • Oh some I know! I have embalmed the days,
    Even the sacred moments when we played,
    All innocent of passion, uncorrupt,
    At noon and evening in the flame-heart’s shade.
    • Flame-Heart, l. 26-29
  • Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
    Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!
    • If We Must Die, l. 13-14
  • And, hungry for the old, familiar ways,
    I turned aside and bowed my head and wept.
    • The Tropics in New York, l. 11-12
  • I know the dark delight of being strange,
    The penalty of difference in the crowd,
    The loneliness of wisdom among fools
    • Complete Poems, University of Illinois Press, 2004, p. 348

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