It’s great to move forward a year, especially as some excellent things happened in poetry in 1922. I don’t know how fast I’ll be through Alice Adams, so, in case this is my only Friday in 1922, I have to draw from James Weldon Johnson’s Book of American Negro Poetry. As great a poet as Johnson could be, in his collection he offers a number of poems by the fearless Claude McKay, who wrote about violence and prejudice and passion with intensity and power. I love pretty much every poem of his I’ve read, and choosing one for today was hard, but here it is (and please do offer your thoughts/reactions/questions/comments—I want us to have a little dialogue on these poems!). “If We Must Die”, a sonnet by Claude McKay:
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—oh, 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!
Oh, Kinsmen! We must meet the common foe;
Though far outnumbered, let us still be brave,
And for their thousand blows deal one death-blow!
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!