Poetry Sunday: America by Claude McKay

Claude McKay was a Jamaican-American poet of the last century. He was born in Jamaica in 1889 and later came to the United States to attend college. He was influenced by W.E.B. Du Bois and after moving to New York in 1914, became a prime mover in the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s. He was deeply involved in politics and in the fight for equality and many of his poems speak to that struggle. This poem speaks of his love for his adopted country, "Although she feeds me bread of bitterness..." He loves the country not because it is perfect but in spite of its imperfections and he looks to a future when the country might live up to its ideals. We are still waiting a hundred years later for that to happen.

America

by Claude McKay

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.
Her vigor flows like tides into my blood,
Giving me strength erect against her hate,
Her bigness sweeps my being like a flood.
Yet, as a rebel fronts a king in state,
I stand within her walls with not a shred
Of terror, malice, not a word of jeer.
Darkly I gaze into the days ahead,
And see her might and granite wonders there,
Beneath the touch of Time’s unerring hand,
Like priceless treasures sinking in the sand.

Comments

  1. pretty good, the last line in particular... i don't think i'd be that open-minded, tho...

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    1. I always find it amazing that people who have sometimes been victimized by this country still rise in defense of it.

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  2. As you say, Dorothy, after a hundred years you are still waiting for the nation to live up to its promise. The wait is far from over.

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    Replies
    1. Our country is certainly not alone in failing to live up to its ideals. Still, we strive.

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  3. What a poignant poem. Yes, America...I love it despite its painfully apparent flaws.

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    Replies
    1. We all have a part to play in trying to correct those flaws.

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  4. Thank you, Dorothy, for continuing share timely reminders of where America is and where America must become.

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    1. It is important to keep these ideas and ideals at the forefront.

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  5. Amazing, this immigrant's feelings about the country that was much, much less than ideal for him. And yet, he persisted in his love.

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    Replies
    1. There is really no understanding the human capacity for love.

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  6. That had to be quite the journey for him and yet he appreciated the opportunity.

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    Replies
    1. Indeed. One is filled with admiration and some wonder at the benevolent spirit that could encompass such feelings.

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