Claude McKay's

The Tropics in New York

Harlem Shadows


If We Must Die

The Barrier

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Snally Gaster's African American Phat Library Experience

Not enough poems here? Email me your favorite works of the masters (no amateurs please).


The Tropics in New York

Bananas ripe and green, and ginger-root

  Cocoa in pods and alligator pears,

And tangerines and mangoes and grape fruit,

  Fit for the highest prize at parish fairs,

Set in the window, bringing memories

  Of fruit-trees laden by low-singing rills,

And dewy dawna, and mystical skies

  In benediction over nun-like hills.

My eyes grew dim, and I could no more gaze;

  A wave of longing through my body swept,

And, hungry for the old, familiar ways,

  I turned aside and bowed my head and wept.


Harlem Shadows

I hear the halting footsteps of a lass

  In Negro Harlem when the night lets fall

Its veil. I see the shapes of girls who pass

  To bend and barter at desire's call.

Ah, little dark girls who in slippered feet

Go 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 feet

Are 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 feet

In Harlem wandering from street to street.


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 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!


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.



I must not gaze at them although
Your eyes are dawning day;
I must not watch you as you go
Your sun-illumined way.

I hear but I must never heed
The fascinating note,
Which, fluting like a river reed,
Comes from your trembling throat

I must not see upon your face
Love's softly glowing spark;
For there's the barrier of race,
You're fair and I am dark.

{for sending me this poem, thanks to "Sandeep Mavadia" <>}