Harlem Shadows

- 1889-1948

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.

More by Claude McKay

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. 

Spring in New Hampshire

Too green the springing April grass, 
Too blue the silver-speckled sky, 
For me to linger here, alas, 
While happy winds go laughing by, 
Wasting the golden hours indoors, 
Washing windows and scrubbing floors. 

Too wonderful the April night, 
Too faintly sweet the first May flowers, 
The stars too gloriously bright, 
For me to spend the evening hours, 
When fields are fresh and streams are leaping, 
Wearied, exhausted, dully sleeping.

The Snow Fairy

I 

Throughout the afternoon I watched them there, 
Snow-fairies falling, falling from the sky, 
Whirling fantastic in the misty air, 
Contending fierce for space supremacy. 
And they flew down a mightier force at night, 
As though in heaven there was revolt and riot, 
And they, frail things had taken panic flight 
Down to the calm earth seeking peace and quiet. 
I went to bed and rose at early dawn 
To see them huddled together in a heap, 
Each merged into the other upon the lawn, 
Worn out by the sharp struggle, fast asleep. 
The sun shone brightly on them half the day, 
By night they stealthily had stol'n away. 


II 

And suddenly my thoughts then turned to you 
Who came to me upon a winter's night, 
When snow-sprites round my attic window flew, 
Your hair disheveled, eyes aglow with light. 
My heart was like the weather when you came, 
The wanton winds were blowing loud and long; 
But you, with joy and passion all aflame, 
You danced and sang a lilting summer song. 
I made room for you in my little bed, 
Took covers from the closet fresh and warm, 
A downful pillow for your scented head, 
And lay down with you resting in my arm. 
You went with Dawn. You left me ere the day, 
The lonely actor of a dreamy play.