Samson

Samson, the chosen Nazarite, who ruled
The Jews for twenty years and judged their sins,
Snared in the web of flesh, by woman fooled,
Was captured by the hated Philistines.
But God remembered him in his downfall
And, in his blindness, gave him back his power,
Which nobly used he, at the gaoler’s call,
To save his soul in one grand crowning hour
O sable Samsons, in white prisons bound,
Wounded and blinded, in your hidden strength
Put forth your swarthy hands: the pillar found,
Strain mightily at them until at length
The accursed walls, reared of your blood and tears,
Come crashing, sounding freedom in your ears.

–Published in Workers Dreadnought, January 10, 1920. Signed as Claude McKay

 

 

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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.

Alfonso, Dressing to Wait At Table

Alfonso is a handsome bronze-hued lad
Of subtly-changing and surprising parts;
His moods are storms that frighten and make glad,
His eyes were made to capture women’s hearts.

Down in the glory-hole Alfonso sings
An olden song of wine and clinking glasses
And riotous rakes; magnificently flings
Gay kisses to imaginary lasses.

Alfonso’s voice of mellow music thrills
Our swaying forms and steals our hearts with joy;
And when he soars, his fine falsetto trills
Are rarest notes of gold without alloy.

But, O Alfonso! wherefore do you sing
Dream-songs of carefree men and ancient places?
Soon we shall be beset by clamouring
Of hungry and importunate palefaces.

One Year After

I
Not once in all our days of poignant love,
Did I a single instant give to thee
My undivided being wholly free.
Not all thy potent passion could remove
The barrier that loomed between to prove
The full supreme surrendering of me.
Oh, I was beaten, helpless utterly
Against the shadow-fact with which I strove.
For when a cruel power forced me to face
The truth which poisoned our illicit wine,
That even I was faithless to my race
Bleeding beneath the iron hand of thine,
Our union seemed a monstrous thing and base!
I was an outcast from thy world and mine.

II
Adventure-seasoned and storm-buffeted,
I shun all signs of anchorage, because
The zest of life exceeds the bound of laws.
New gales of tropic fury round my head
Break lashing me through hours of soulful dread;
But when the terror thins and, spent, withdraws,
Leaving me wondering awhile, I pause—
But soon again the risky ways I tread!
No rigid road for me, no peace, no rest,
While molten elements run through my blood;
And beauty-burning bodies manifest
Their warm, heart-melting motions to be wooed;
And passion boldly rising in my breast,
Like rivers of the Spring, lets loose its flood.

Exhortation: Summer, 1919

Through the pregnant universe rumbles life’s
            terrific thunder,
And Earth’s bowels quake with terror; strange
            and terrible storms break,
Lightning-torches flame the heavens, kindling
            souls of me, thereunder:
Africa! Long ages sleeping, O my motherland,
            awake!

In the East the clouds glow crimson with the new
            dawn that is breaking,
And its golden glory fills the western skies.
O my brothers and my sisters, wake! Arise!
For the new birth rends the old earth and the
            very dead are waking,
Ghosts are turned flesh, throwing off the grave’s
            disguise,
And the foolish, even children, are made wise;
For the big earth groans in travail for the strong,
            new world in making─
O my brothers, dreaming for dim centuries,
Wake from sleeping; to the East turn, turn
            your eyes!

Oh the night is sweet for sleeping, but the shining
            day’s for working;
Sons of the seductive night, for your children’s
            children’s sake,
From the deep primeval forests where the crouching
            leopard’s lurking
Lift your heavy-lidded eyes, Ethiopia! Awake!

In the East the clouds glow crimson with the new
            dawn that is breaking,
And its golden glory fills the western skies.
O my brothers and my sisters, wake! Arise!
For the new birth rends the old earth and the
            very dead are waking,
Ghosts are turned flesh, throwing off the grave’s disguise,
And the foolish, even children, are made wise;
For the big earth groans in travail for the strong,
            new world in making─
O my brothers, dreaming for long centuries,
Wake from sleeping; to the East turn, turn
            your eyes!

When Dawn Comes to the City

The tired cars go grumbling by,
The moaning, groaning cars,
And the old milk carts go rumbling by
Under the same dull stars.
Out of the tenements, cold as stone,
Dark figures start for work;
I watch them sadly shuffle on,
‘Tis dawn, dawn in New York.

But I would be on the island of the sea,
In the heart of the island of the sea,
Where the cocks are crowing, crowing, crowing,
And the hens are cackling in the rose-apple tree,
Where the old draft-horse is neighing, neighing, neighing
Out on the brown dew-silvered lawn,
And the tethered cow is lowing, lowing, lowing,
And dear old Ned is braying, braying, braying,
And the shaggy Nannie goat is calling, calling, calling
From her little trampled corner of the long wide lea
That stretches to the waters of the hill-stream falling
Sheer upon the flat rocks joyously!
There, oh there! on the island of the sea,
There I would be at dawn.

The tired cars go grumbling by,
The crazy, lazy cars,
And the same milk carts go rumbling by
Under the dying stars.
A lonely newsboy hurries by,
Humming a recent ditty;
Red streaks strike through the gray of the sky,
The dawn comes to the city.

But I would be on the island of the sea,
In the heart of the island of the sea,
Where the cocks are crowing, crowing, crowing,
And the hens are cackling in the rose-apple tree,
Where the old draft-horse is neighing, neighing, neighing
Out on the brown dew-silvered lawn,
And the tethered cow is lowing, lowing, lowing,
And dear old Ned is braying, braying, braying,
And the shaggy Nannie goat is calling, calling, calling
From her little trampled corner of the long wide lea
That stretches to the waters of the hill-stream falling
Sheer upon the flat rocks joyously!
There, oh there! on the island of the sea,
There I would be at dawn.

The Lynching

His Spirit in smoke ascended to high heaven.
His father, by the cruelest way of pain,
Had bidden him to his bosom once again;
The awful sin remained still unforgiven.
All night a bright and solitary star
(Perchance the one that ever guided him,
Yet gave him up at last to Fate’s wild whim)
Hung pitifully o’er the swinging char.
Day dawned, and soon the mixed crowds came
to view
The ghastly body swaying in the sun
The women thronged to look, but never a one
Showed sorrow in her eyes of steely blue;
And little lads, lynchers that were to be,
Danced round the dreadful thing in fiendish glee.

Commemoration

Commemoration

When first your glory shone upon my face
My body kindled to a mighty flame,
And burnt you yielding in my hot embrace
Until you swooned to love, breathing my name.

And wonder came and filled our night of sleep,
Like a new comet crimsoning the sky;
And stillness like the stillness of the deep
Suspended lay as an unuttered sigh.

I never again shall feel your warm hearth flushed,
Panting with passion, naked unto mine,
Until the throbbing world around is hushed
To quiet worship at our scented shrine.

Nor will your glory seek my swarthy face,
To kindle and to change my jaded frame
Into a miracle of godlike grace,
Transfigured, bathed in your immortal flame.

A Memory of June

When June comes dancing o’er the death of May,
With scarlet roses tinting her green breast,
And mating thrushes ushering in her day,
And Earth on tiptoe for her golden guest,

I always see the evening when we met─
The first of June baptized in tender rain─
And walked home through the wide streets,
            gleaming wet,
Arms locked, our warm flesh pulsing with
            love’s pain.

I always see the cheerful little room,
And in the corner, fresh and white, the bed,
Sweet scented with a delicate perfume,
Wherein for one night only we were wed;

Where in the starlit stillness we lay mute,
And heard the whispering showers all night long,
And your brown burning body was a lute
Whereon my passion played his fevered song.

When June comes dancing o’er the death of May,
With scarlet roses staining her fair feet,
My soul takes leave of me to sing all day
A love so fugitive and so complete.

The Harlem Dancer

Applauding youths laughed with young prostitutes
And watched her perfect, half-clothed body sway;
Her voice was like the sound of blended flutes Blown by black players upon a picnic day.
She sang and danced on gracefully and calm,
The light gauze hanging loose about her form;
To me she seemed a proudly-swaying palm
Grown lovelier for passing through a storm.
Upon her swarthy neck black shiny curls
Luxuriant fell; and tossing coins in praise,
The wine-flushed, bold-eyed boys, and even the
            girls,
Devoured her shape with eager, passionate gaze;
But looking at her falsely-smiling face,
I knew her self was not in that strange place.