Outcast

- 1889-1948

For the dim regions whence my fathers came
My spirit, bondaged by the body, longs.
Words felt, but never heard, my lips would frame;
My soul would sing forgotten jungle songs.
I would go back to darkness and to peace,
But the great western world holds me in fee,
And I may never hope for full release
While to its alien gods I bend my knee.
Something in me is lost, forever lost,
Some vital thing has gone out of my heart,
And I must walk the way of life a ghost
Among the sons of earth, a thing apart;
For I was born, far from my native clime,
Under the white man's menace, out of time.

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.

Related Poems

Oriflamme

“I can remember when I was a little, young girl, how my old mammy would sit out of doors in the evenings and look up at the stars and groan, and I would say, ‘Mammy, what makes you groan so?’ And she would say, ‘I am groaning to think of my poor children; they do not know where I be and I don’t know where they be. I look up at the stars and they look up at the stars!’”
            —Sojourner Truth.

I think I see her sitting bowed and black,
  Stricken and seared with slavery’s mortal scars,
Reft of her children, lonely, anguished, yet
  Still looking at the stars.

Symbolic mother, we thy myriad sons,
  Pounding our stubborn hearts on Freedom’s bars,
Clutching our birthright, fight with faces set,
  Still visioning the stars!

Sympathy

I know what the caged bird feels, alas!
   When the sun is bright on the upland slopes;
When the wind stirs soft through the springing grass,
And the river flows like a stream of glass;
   When the first bird sings and the first bud opes,
And the faint perfume from its chalice steals—
I know what the caged bird feels!

I know why the caged bird beats its wing
   Till its blood is red on the cruel bars;
For he must fly back to his perch and cling
When he fain would be on the bough a-swing;
   And a pain still throbs in the old, old scars
And they pulse again with a keener sting—
I know why he beats his wing!

I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,
   When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,—
When he beats his bars and he would be free;
It is not a carol of joy or glee,
   But a prayer that he sends from his heart's deep core,
But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings—
I know why the caged bird sings!

A Way of Seeing

It all comes from this dark dirt,
memory as casual as a laborer.

Remembrances of ancestors
kept in trinkets, tiny remains

that would madden anthropologists
with their namelessness.

No records, just smells of stories
passing through most tenuous links,

trusting in the birthing of seed from seed;
this calabash bowl of Great-grand

Martha, born a slave’s child;
this bundle of socks, unused

thick woolen things for the snow—
he died, Uncle Felix, before the ship

pushed off the Kingston wharf,
nosing for winter, for London.

He never used the socks, just
had them buried with him.

So, sometimes forgetting the panorama
these poems focus like a tunnel,

to a way of seeing time past,
a way of seeing the dead.