Poem #36: Enslaved by Claude McKay

Estimated Reading Time:  2.5 minutes
Book cover to African American Poetry - An Anthology, 1773-1927, Dover Edition.


Claude McKay

Source:  African-American Poetry: An Anthology, 1773-1927. Dover Thrift Editions. Ed. Joan R. Sherman. 1997. ISBN:  978-0-486-29604-3.

Link: You can find this poem on this website.


Oh when I think of my long-suffering race,
For weary centuries despised, oppressed,
Enslaved and lynched, denied a human place
In the great life line of the Christian West;
And in the Black Land disinherited,
Robbed in the ancient country of its birth, 
My heart grows sick with hate, becomes as lead,
For this my race that has no home on earth.
Then from the dark depths of my soul I cry
To the avenging angel to consume
The white man's world of wonders utterly:
Let it be swallowed up in earth's vast womb,
Or upward roll as sacrificial smoke
To liberate my people from its yoke!


The pain of loss emanates through the lines of this short poem and yet, I appreciate how like many other poems it moves from pain to power; calling out the "Christian West" for its horrific violence.  I do wonder about the literalness of McKay in calling for the destruction of "white man's world of wonders".  Is he calling for the death of people or the destruction of the physical world built by Black people enslaved by white Christians?  I don't know that I can fully see it as that given the last line.  McKay hopes that an avenging angel will "liberate my people from its yoke."  The destruction he calls for is to serve the purpose of freedom and thus, it makes me wonder if he is less caught up in the full destruction as revenge or the destruction needed for fully liberated people.  It seems the latter since he is calling on an avenging angel--an impartial entity to bring vengeance to the people and not to the speaker himself.  Of course, it could be argued differently since the speaker's heart is "sick with hate" which precipitates his calling upon the angel. 

Those are my thoughts.  What did you find interesting about the poem?

About the reflections
This poem is part of a 365 day challenge project that focuses on a poem a day.  Similar projects have included short shorties and photo reflections. Part of the intention of this year's project is to develop a better appreciation and means of reflecting on poetry, something that has never been a strong suit for me.  These reflections therefore do not represent a definitive assessment of the work by me. They are merely an opportunity for me to have a public conversation about what they mean in order to help myself better understand them and mayhaps have a conversation with readers for further insight.  

Did you enjoy this read? Let me know your thoughts down below or feel free to browse around and check out some of my other posts!. You might also want to keep up to date with my blog by signing up for them via email.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.