“Poems are handbooks for human decency and understanding. Poets hold water in their cupped hands and run back from the well because someone is parched and thirsting. The poem is a force field against despair. ”
Elizabeth Alexander – Academy of American Poets Chancellor
The Tropics of New York
By Claude McKay
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,
Sat in the window, bringing memories
. .of fruit-trees laden by low-singing rills,
And dewy dawns, and mystical skies
. .In benediction over nun-like hills.
My eyes grow 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.
Claude McKay’s poetry is filled with lyric wishfulness, both joyous and homesick, poems filled with the radiance of memory and place, borne of an inner song. It is the quality that Keats described when he said, “Poetry should be great and unobtrusive, a thing which enters into the soul, and does not startle or amaze with itself but with its subject.”
McKay was a poet before he left his beloved homeland of Jamaica to study agriculture, assuming he would return to share his new found knowledge. He attended the University of Kansas, where the love of literature overtook his interest in farming. McKay eventually moved to Harlem, where he would work menial jobs that paid enough to survive and would continue to write for the rest of his life.
McKay is the kind of poet who makes the difficult look easy. He writes with a quality that makes words sing; songs of emotions and ideas. McKay confronted racism with his writing and more importantly confronted life. McKay’s best poetry is like water for the thirsty, in protest or in reverence, his words are simply eloquent.
To read more about Claude McKay, in his own words, click on the link below for a reprint of an article he wrote in 1918 for Pearson’s Magazine.
I Shall Return
by Claude McKay
I shall return again; I shall return
To laugh and love and watch with wonder-eyes
At golden noon the forest fires burn,
Wafting their blue-black smoke to sapphire skies.
I shall return to loiter by the streams
That bathe the brown blades of the bending grasses,
And realize once more my thousand dreams
Of waters rushing down the mountain passes.
I shall return to hear the fiddle and fife
Of village dances, dear delicious tunes
That stir the hidden depths of native life,
Stray melodies of dim remembered runes.
I shall return, I shall return again,
To ease my mind of long, long years of pain.