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.
About This Poem
Claude McKay used the sonnet form in a number of his poems, often writing about social and political concerns from his perspective as a black man in the United States. McKay also wrote about a wide range of subjects, from his Jamaican homeland to romantic love.
Claude McKay was born in Jamaica, West Indies, in 1889. At the age of twenty, McKay published a book of verse called Songs of Jamaica, recording his impressions of black life in Jamaica in dialect. In 1912, he travelled to the United States to attend Tuskegee Institute. After a few months, he left Tuskegee to study agriculture at Kansas State University. McKay’s viewpoints and poetic achievements set the tone for the Harlem Renaissance and gained the deep respect of younger black poets of the time. He died in 1948.