Claude McKay’s Mosaic of America

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 my 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 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.

According to the American Academy of Poets, April is poetry month. The last post examined Ezra Pound’s In A Station of The Metro.  Claude McKay’s America recently caught my attention.

McKay emigrated from Jamaica to America in 1912.  Initially, he attended Tuskegee University. Eventually, he transferred to Kansas State University. During this time,  McKay faced segregation throughout public facilities.  Ironically, this gave him the inspiration to write poetry.

He developed his reputation as writer during the Harlem Renaissance. McKay wrote three novels. He also produced two collections of poetry.  The novel Home to Harlem was a bestseller and received the Harmon Gold award. 

W.E.B Dubois’ Souls of Black Folks influenced his poetry.   Dubois introduced the concept of Double consciousness into sociology.  Double consciousness is when an individual’s identity develops into segments.  According to Dubious,  Black folks feel a two-ness as both Americans and people of color.

The frustration at injustice and struggle to embrace America underscores  America. McKay incorporates both personification and figurative language to capture this tension of being both Black and American.  Also, there is another duality in this storyline.  America holds endless promise and opportunity. Despite this, the America also offers bitterness and anger.

America is a predator (the nation becoming a living creature)  in this poem.  However,  the narrator also loves American culture. He sees dark days ahead  but sees America as grand and powerful.  The nation is striving to overcome its past sins. The republic is working towards redemption.

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