A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Friday, March 26, 2010

Poem of the Day: 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.
--Claude McKay

The sonnet concentrates the imagination wonderfully. For a form originally associated with love poetry, it has mutated into one for all occasions. Donne and Hopkins wrote them about God; Milton wrote them about going blind and turning 23 years old; and Wordsworth even wrote sonnets about writing sonnets. But I don't think anyone ever used the sheer concentrated power of the 14-line poem as effectively as McKay did to express his anger about racial injustice in America, here and in "If We Must Die" and "The White City". Brave and bitter poetry.