Claude McKay: America





English Literature


“All aboard! Next stop…. the new world!” This phrase has been repeated many of times throughout history to all the people with hopes, dreams, and aspirations to live with dignity and absolute freedom. This was the case of one aspiring and venturous immigrant, Claude McKay. Believing in the equality and freedom of the poor and backwards peasantry he had left behind in Jamaica, he sought to establish a new life in the United States with a similar dream in his mind. Landing in Harlem and being in the forefront at the Harlem renaissance movement, McKay etched a name for himself in the prestigious of prestigious American poets through his awe-inspiring poetry. Through his experiences, McKay wrote a poem titled as America to show his experiences in this strange and unforgiving land. This poem showed his first hand accounts of his feelings towards this new and strange land. In conclusion he developed a love-hate relationship with this new land and one might even argue that he saw this new land as an empire rather than a country.


This poem is divided up basically as a sonnet, which McKay was quite popularly known to do. He used the sonnet form generally to get his poetry across almost melodiously with a message to his readers. The tone is set generally quite harsh and a bit of bitterness in complaints. Towards the end the tone changes to bewilderment and even foreshowing and predictive thinking in the new “empire” he has settled in. The mood or tone is of bitterness and of sorrow, which is reflected through his writing. As far as the meaning of the poem, the first line basically indicates how although he has food to feed himself and how he is living upon only meager rations. This was the case amongst many foreigners entering the Roman Empire who came to seek fortune yet stayed their lives in despair due to disproportionate amounts of wealthy to unhealthy citizens. The second line again personifies America as “(America)…sinks into my throat her tiger’s tooth”(pg 1460). This shows the cruelty and the viciousness of the brave new world that McKay has just encountered. However, on the ironic side he testifies in line three and four that in doing so this “cultured hell” (1460) gives him a drive and challenge in his life. Much like the Roman Empire and new people wanting it to make it big, the gladiator rings were a cultured hell where one enjoyed it much but any moment death was near. The sheer force of the American life gives him strength he goes on to say which stands defiantly fueling his hate. Line seven then continues to say that the mightiness of America is so grand that like a house in a flood he feels swept away amongst her force. Again in comparison to Caesarian times, Roman authority over Europe was unrivaled by even the barbarians and the military prowess left it being the only super power. Later McKay continues on saying as a defiant “rebel fronts a king in state” (1460) he respects the authority of this grand “empire” yet secretively quarrels which even in roman times to some extent was allowed due to a democratic way of thinking prior to the Monarchs such as Augustus I. The last four lines change in tone describing the road ahead for this empire predicting the fall is soon bound to happen despite the magnificence of “its granite wonders” which even ancient Rome possessed (coliseums). And the last line ends with “priceless treasures sinking in the sand.”


The last line is almost a predicted and eerie fact of what could happen to America if it doesn’t stay out of unnecessary conflicts and wars as it is participating now in. McKay, almost as a foreseer for the culture of this empire had strong convincing views that the fall of this Empire was near. Eerily the ancient Romans themselves thought of themselves to be invisible, however, a small group of tribes known as the Huns and their leader Attila wiped the rule which gave rise to internal strife. A common saying is that history repeats itself. The priceless treasures that are unearthed today’s are ancient romes coliseums its