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Shvoong Home>Books>Poetry>The Black Consciousness Poet: Claude Mckay Review

The Black Consciousness Poet: Claude Mckay

Book Review   by:Arty     Original Author: Arthur Edgar Smith
ª
 
BLACK CONSCIOUSNESS IN THE POETRY OF CLAUDE MCKAY The article ‘Black Consciousness Poet: Claude Mckay' is the first in a series of articles looking at the life and varied works of Jamaican writer Claude Mckay who eventually became absorbed in the body of African-American literature. This article closely examines the poetry of this young Jamaican writer who emigrated to America and bore considerable influence on American Literature, particularly so through the Harlem Renaissance where his influence was reflected in the work of myriads of African American writers including Langston Hughes. Mckay is seen as closely identifiable to his landmark poem ’If We Must Die’ popularized by World War 11 British Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill when he employed it as a call for action to his people at a time he needed total solidarity and readiness from them to fight to defend their nation at a time of war. But in essence the poem was writiten to rally Blacks together to fight off the worst of racist oppression in America.
Mckay’s early years in Jamaica
.
Claude Mckay’s devotion to poetry and Black Nationalism actually started from his early years in Jamaica. Then, Mckay’s poetry which were mostly dialect verse drawn from his early years experience in Jamaica particularly as a police constable was informed and characterised by his profound respect for the sense of community existing among rural folks there. His early Jamaican verse in Constab Ballads
and Songs of Jamaica
records
how
deeply upset he
was
at beholding human sufferings and through them his reprimanding those responsible for such social injustices. Through his poetry, Mckay also celebrates the joy seen in the industry of the black workers whilst enduring exploitation at the hands of their white employers.
Mckay’s Arrival in the US.

When in 1912 Mckay arrived in the US, the climate there had become ripe for the eruption of more virulent Negro verse from his pen. He had already been set as a poet with a proud sense of his race who at the same time is emotionally troubled by the sufferings of his people in Jamaica. Here in the US, Mckay meets unimaginable human suffering. Mckay’s early years in New York coincided with growing racial bitterness, Negro disillusionment with Booker T. Washington, increasing white hysteria and violence, the rise of Garveyism and the hostility between Marcus Garvey and the NAACP. All these brought about the Negro Renaissance or Harlem Renaissance. Here again Mckay identified himself with the struggles of the Blacks. But then his poetry responded to both sides of the America that he experienced. He responded to its bitterness as well as its joy and beauty. His pity for the Blacks suffering at the cruel hands of the Whites was enlarged into a wider pity for all humanity irregardless of race as he also showed pity for the Whites themselves for distorting their human impulses through their cruelties to their kind. Mckay is thus touched by misery in ‘The Castaway’ where standing in a beautiful park, he gets attracted not by the visible delight of nature but by the castaways of earth, the lonely and derelicts, and then turns away in misery, irregardless of whether they are white or black.
Mckay’s poetry turning to Africa.
Claude Mckay’s poetry is also seen in the article as reflecting the new consciousness that was then being developed in African-Americans of their connection to Africa following the pace set by another Jamaican émigré, Marcus Garvey in his ‘Back to Africa’ call. Claude Mckay thus improved on Garvey’s invocation of African spirituality drawing much from Africa’s past glories as well as those of the Negroid race whilst at the same time instilling pride in black beauty and dignity.

Conclusion

Mckay’s poetry in moving over to America loses its use of the Jamaican dialects aimitates an English –like ballad style but assumes more militancy in addressing more public than private issues and situations as were characteristic of his earlier work in Jamaica.
Published: September 22, 2007   
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