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Short poem

Claude McKay (1889-1948)

If We Must Die

              1If we must die, let it not be like hogs
              2Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
              3While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,
              4Making their mock at our accursèd lot.
              5If we must die, O let us nobly die,
              6So that our precious blood may not be shed
              7In vain; then even the monsters we defy
              8Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!
              9O kinsmen! we must meet the common foe!
            10Though far outnumbered let us show us brave,
            11And for their thousand blows deal one death-blow!
            12What though before us lies the open grave?
            13Like men we'll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
            14Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!


1] McKay is writing here about lynchings, in particular the riots in Harlem in 1919. Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, Sr., read this poem into the Congressional record during World War II for its inspirational theme.

Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: Harlem Shadows: The Poems of Claude McKay, with an introduction by Max Eastman (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1922): 53. PS 3525 A24785 H3 Robarts Library.
First publication date: July 1919
Publication date note: Liberator (July 1919).
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: RPO 1998.
Recent editing: 2:2002/4/4

Form: sonnet
Rhyme: ababcdcdefefgg

Other poems by Claude McKay