Adolescence

- 1889-1948

There was a time when in late afternoon
    The four-o’clocks would fold up at day’s close
Pink-white in prayer, and ’neath the floating moon
    I lay with them in calm and sweet repose.

And in the open spaces I could sleep,
    Half-naked to the shining worlds above;
Peace came with sleep and sleep was long and deep,
    Gained without effort, sweet like early love.

But now no balm—nor drug nor weed nor wine—
    Can bring true rest to cool my body’s fever,
Nor sweeten in my mouth the acid brine,
    That salts my choicest drink and will forever.

More by Claude McKay

The Barrier

I must not gaze at them although 
  Your eyes are dawning day; 
I must not watch you as you go 
  Your sun-illumined way; 

I hear but I must never heed 
  The fascinating note, 
Which, fluting like a river reed, 
  Comes from your trembing throat; 

I must not see upon your face 
  Love's softly glowing spark; 
For there's the barrier of race, 
  You're fair and I am dark.

The City's Love

For one brief golden moment rare like wine, 
The gracious city swept across the line; 
Oblivious of the color of my skin, 
Forgetting that I was an alien guest, 
She bent to me, my hostile heart to win, 
Caught me in passion to her pillowy breast; 
The great, proud city, seized with a strange love, 
Bowed down for one flame hour my pride to prove. 

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.

Related Poems

Hearing your words and not a word among them (Sonnet XXXVI)

Hearing your words, and not a word among them 
Tuned to my liking, on a salty day 
When inland woods were pushed by winds that flung them 
Hissing to leeward like a ton of spray,
I thought how off Matinicus the tide 
Came pounding in, came running though the Gut, 
While from the Rock the warning whistle cried, 
And children whimpered and the doors blew shut; 
There in the autumn when the men go forth,
With slapping skirts the island women stand
In gardens stripped and scattered, peering north, 
With dahlia tubers dripping from the hand: 
The wind of their endurance, driving south, 
Flattened your words against your speaking mouth.