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  • Six Poems from Harlem Shadows
  • Claude McKay (bio)


Although she feeds me bread of bitterness,And sinks into my throat her tiger's tooth,Stealing my breath of life, I will confessI 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 shredOf 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.

home thoughts

Oh something just now must be happening there!That suddenly and quiveringly here,Amid the city's noises, I must thinkOf mangoes leaning o'er the river's brink,And dexterous Davie climbing high above,The gold fruits ebon-speckled to remove,And toss them quickly in the tangled massOf wis-wis twisted round the guinea grass ;And Cyril coming through the bramble-trackA prize bunch of bananas on his back;And Georgie—none could ever dive like him—Throwing his scanty clothes off for a swim;And schoolboys, from Bridge-tunnel going home,Watching the waters downward dash and foam.This is no daytime dream, there's something in it,Oh something's happening there this very minute! [End Page 106]

after the winter

Some day, when trees have shed their leaves        And against the morning's whiteThe shivering birds beneath the eaves        Have sheltered for the night,We'll turn our faces southward, love,        Toward the summer isleWhere bamboos spire to shafted grove        And wide-mouthed orchids smile.

And we will seek the quiet hill        Where towers the cotton tree,And leaps the laughing crystal rill,        And works the droning bee.And we will build a cottage there        Beside an open glade,With black-ribbed blue-bells blowing near,        And ferns that never fade.

harlem shadows

I hear the halting footsteps of a lass        In Negro Harlem when the night lets fallIts veil. I see the shapes of girls who pass        To bend and barter at desire's call.Ah, little dark girls who in slippered feetGo prowling through the night from street to street!

Through the long night until the silver break        Of day the little gray feet know no rest;Through the lone night until the last snow-flake        Has dropped from heaven upon the earth's white breast,The dusky, half-clad girls of tired feetAre trudging, thinly shod, from street to street.

Ah, stern harsh world, that in the wretched way        Of poverty, dishonor and disgrace,Has pushed the timid little feet of clay,        The sacred brown feet of my fallen race!Ah, heart of me, the weary, weary feetIn Harlem wandering from street to street. [End Page 107]


Oh when I think of my long-suffering race,For weary centuries despised, oppressed,Enslaved and lynched, denied a human placeIn the great life line of the Christian West;And in the Black Land disinherited,Robbed in the ancient country of its birth,My heart grows sick with hate, becomes as lead,For this my race that has no home on earth.Then from the dark depths of my soul I cryTo the avenging angel to consumeThe white man's world of wonders utterly:Let it be swallowed up in earth's vast womb,Or upward roll as sacrificial smokeTo liberate my people from its yoke!


For the dim regions whence my fathers cameMy spirit, bondaged by the body, longs.Words felt, but never heard, my lips would frame;My soul would sing forgotten jungle songs.I would go back to darkness and to peace,But the great western world holds me in fee,And I may never hope for full releaseWhile to its alien gods I bend my knee.Something in me is lost, forever lost,Some vital thing has gone out of my heart,And I must walk the way of life a...


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pp. 106-108
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