Legends of the Ballroom VIII: Claude McKay

“If we must die, let it not be like hogs”

These are the words that begin one of the most significant and militant poems in the history of the Amerikkkan experience. These words, which echo in the fires of the eternity, were a call to Blacks who faced death in all areas of this country but the South in particular. The piece stands as a pillar in the Amerikkkan cultural landscape. It is often not an emphasized fact that McKay was homosexual, which is typical of the tellers of history and the assimilationist (and sometimes reactionary) elements in the Black community

Get into some of his poetry

If We Must Die

If we must die, let it not be like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,
Making their mock at our accursed lot.
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!
O kinsmen we must meet the common foe!
Though far outnumbered let us show us brave,
And for their thousand blows deal one deathblow!
What though before us lies the open grave?
Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!

I Know My Soul

I plucked my soul out of its secret place,
And held it to the mirror of my eye,
To see it like a star against the sky,
A twitching body quivering in space,
A spark of passion shining on my face.
And I explored it to determine why
This awful key to my infinity

Conspires to rob me of
sweet joy and grace.
And if the sign may not be fully read,
If I can comprehend but not control,
I need not gloom my days
with futile dread,
Because I see a part and not the whole.
Contemplating the strange, I’m comforted
By this narcotic thought: I know my soul.

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