English Literature- Wentworth
Claude McKay: America
“All aboard! Next stop…. the new world!” This phrase has been
repeated many of times throughout history to all the people with hopes,
dreams, and aspirations to live with dignity and absolute freedom. This was
the case of one aspiring and venturous immigrant, Claude McKay. Believing
in the equality and freedom of the poor and backwards peasantry he had left
behind in Jamaica, he sought to establish a new life in the United States
with a similar dream in his mind. Landing in Harlem and being in the
forefront at the Harlem renaissance movement, McKay etched a name for
himself in the prestigious of prestigious American poets through his awe-
inspiring poetry. Through his experiences, McKay wrote a poem titled as
America to show his experiences in this strange and unforgiving land. This
poem showed his first hand accounts of his feelings towards this new and
strange land. In conclusion he developed a love-hate relationship with this
new land and one might even argue that he saw this new land as an empire
rather than a country.

This poem is divided up basically as a sonnet, which McKay was
quite popularly known to do. He used the sonnet form generally to get his
poetry across almost melodiously with a message to his readers. The tone is
set generally quite harsh and a bit of bitterness in complaints. Towards
the end the tone changes to bewilderment and even foreshowing and
predictive thinking in the new “empire” he has settled in. The mood or tone
is of bitterness and of sorrow, which is reflected through his writing. As
far as the meaning of the poem, the first line basically indicates how
although he has food to feed himself and how he is living upon only meager
rations. This was the case amongst many foreigners entering the Roman
Empire who came to seek fortune yet stayed their lives in despair due to
disproportionate amounts of wealthy to unhealthy citizens. The second line
again personifies America as “(America)…sinks into my throat her tiger’s
tooth”(pg 1460). This shows the cruelty and the viciousness of the brave
new world that McKay has just encountered. However, on the ironic side he
testifies in line three and four that in doing so this “cultured hell”
(1460) gives him a drive and challenge in his life. Much like the Roman
Empire and new people wanting it to make it big, the gladiator rings were a
cultured hell where one enjoyed it much but any moment death was near. The
sheer force of the American life gives him strength he goes on to say which
stands defiantly fueling his hate. Line seven then continues to say that
the mightiness of America is so grand that like a house in a flood he feels
swept away amongst her force. Again in comparison to Caesarian times, Roman
authority over Europe was unrivaled by even the barbarians and the military
prowess left it being the only super power. Later McKay continues on saying
as a defiant “rebel fronts a king in state” (1460) he respects the
authority of this grand “empire” yet secretively quarrels which even in
roman times to some extent was allowed due to a democratic way of thinking
prior to the Monarchs such as Augustus I. The last four lines change in
tone describing the road ahead for this empire predicting the fall is soon
bound to happen despite the magnificence of “its granite wonders” which
even ancient Rome possessed (coliseums). And the last line ends with
“priceless treasures sinking in the sand.”
The last line is almost a predicted and eerie fact of what
could happen to America if it doesn’t stay out of unnecessary conflicts and
wars as it is participating now in. McKay, almost as a foreseer for the
culture of this empire had strong convincing views that the fall of this
Empire was near. Eerily the ancient Romans themselves thought of themselves
to be invisible, however, a small group of tribes known as the Huns and
their leader Attila wiped the rule which gave rise to internal strife. A
common saying is that history repeats itself. The priceless treasures that
are unearthed today’s are ancient romes coliseums its coinage and its
weapons. Who knows? Maybe in the near future, a descending civilization
could unearth America’s treasures and say wonder how this civilization?
What caused its decline? Was its racial intolerance? Its capitalistic
greed? Or was it empirical ambitions?

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