Claude McKay: A Black Poet's Struggle for Identity

By Tyrone Tillery | Go to book overview

1
In Search of Larger Worlds

LATE IN 1912 Claude Festus McKay prepared to leave Jamaica for the United States. At twenty-three he already had become something of a Jamaican "Robert Burns."1 A pioneer in writing Jamaican dialect poetry, and author of two volumes of verse, Songs of Jamaica and Constabulary Ballads, he had reached the point at which the development of his intellectual and creative ambitions required a world larger than Jamaica. Yet, as he departed, McKay carried with him the intellectual and psychological baggage of a culture that left an indelible mark on his intellectual and social development.2 Both his eventual successes and his future failures can be traced to the strong influences exerted on him as a child and young man in Jamaica.

Claude was born on September 15, 1890, in the tiny village of Sunny Ville, nestled in the remote hills of Clarendon parish. Sunny Ville sat in a triangle of land formed by two streams--one so large the peasants called it a river.3 The hills and streams of Jamaica formed an important part of the peasants' lives. Life, it was believed, was inseparably "linked with streams," which nourished the Jamaican peasant's soul, and provided a point of reference for the native son who happened to wander from his native soil. Written in the Jamaican dialect, McKay poem "To Clarendon Hills and H.A.H." captures much of this feeling:

Love Clarendon Hills, Dear Clarendon Hills,
Dear Clarendon Hills,
Oh I feel de chills,
Yes, I feel de chills
Coursin' t'rough me frame
When I call your name,
Dear Clarendon hills,
Loved Clarendon hills.4

For McKay, the rivers also represented the innocence and purity of youth, unspoiled by the intrusion of age and the encroachment of civilization. After leaving Clarendon, McKay nos-

-3-

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Claude McKay: A Black Poet's Struggle for Identity
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • 1 - In Search of Larger Worlds 3
  • 2 - In Search of Moorings 21
  • 3 - The Problems of a Black Radical: 1919-1923 38
  • 4 - "How Shall the Negro Be Portrayed?" and Home to Harlem 76
  • 5 - Banjo: Art and Self-Catharsis 107
  • 6 - Back to Harlem 126
  • 7 - I Have Come to Lead the Renaissance 148
  • 8 - A Long Way from Home 165
  • Notes 185
  • Bibliography 219
  • Index 231
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