(poetry diary 89) I’m looking for more poems written in times of government-sanctioned hatred. Yesterday I posted “Requiem” by Anna Akhmatova,which was written during the Soviet Union’s Great Purge. Today I’m posting “If We Must Die” by Claude McKay.
The World War had ended. But its end was a signal for the outbreak of little wars between labor and capital and, like a plague breaking out in sore places, between colored folk and white.
Our Negro newspapers were morbid, full of details of clashes between colored and white, murderous shootings and hangings. Traveling from city to city and unable to gauge the attitude and temper of each one, we Negro railroad men were nervous. We were less light-hearted. We did not separate from one another gaily to spend ourselves in speakeasies and gambling joints. We stuck together, some of us armed, going from the railroad station to our quarters. We stayed in our quarters all through the dreary ominous nights, for we never knew what was going to happen.
It was during those days that the sonnet, “If We Must Die,” exploded out of me.
–Claude McKay. Read more at Modern American Poetry