Claude McKay is an influential figure in Black Love Poetry

My next famous black love poetry contributor, Claude Mckay (1890-1948) was born in Jamaica and died an American citizen. As a poet novelist and journalist, he was very influential especially earlier in his career when he wrote many of his famous 'protest poetry' which were sonnets.

Some of these are "If We Must Die," (his best known poem and an anthem of resistance later quoted by Winston Churchill during World War II.) "Baptism," "The White House," and "The Lynching."

McKay's influence was wide and far reaching mainly because he broke new ground by being very direct on racial issues from a working class focal point of view. This innovation made him an inspirational figure for the emergent generation of poets like Langston Hughes and Countée Cullen who formed the core of the Harlem Renaissance.

Years later, when he sojourned in Paris, his novel, Banjo: A Story without a Plot (1929) influenced the young African student Léopold Sédar Senghor as well as Aimé Césaire, and other pioneers of the Negritude literary movement that took hold in French West Africa and the West Indies.

We shall have the opportunity of seeing how this impacted on Senghor who later became head of state in Senegal, when we take a look at his black love poetry in my page on African Black love poetry.

Here are five examples of Claude McKay's black love poetry:


Your scent is in the room.

Swiftly it overwhelms and conquers me!

Jasmine, night jasmine, perfect

of perfume,

Heavy with dew before the

dawn of day!

Your face was in the mirror. I could see

You smile and vanish suddenly away,

Leaving behind the vestige of a tear.

Sad suffering face, from parting

grown so dear!

Night jasmine cannot bloom

in this cold place;

Without the street is wet

and weird with snow;

The cold nude trees are

tossing to and fro;

Too stormy is the night for your fond face;

For your low voice too loud

the wind's mad roar.

But oh, your scent is

here-jasmines that grow

Luxuriant, clustered round

your cottage door!


I will not reason, wrestle here with you,

Though you pursue and worry me about;

As well put forth my swarthy arm to stop

The wild wind howling,

darkly mad without.

The night is yours for revels;

day will light.

I will not fight you, bold and tigerish,

For I am weak, while you are

gaining strength;

Peace! cease tormenting me

to have your wish.

But when you're filled and sated

with the Flesh,

I shall go swiftly to the silver stream,

To cleanse my body for the spirit's sake,

And sun my limbs, and close

eyes to dream.

'Tormented' like 'Obfuscate Blue' earlier, wears the cap of love poetry somewhat uneasily, the focus being rather too dark and ugly to merit inclusion. My only defence again is to plead variety dear reader!

'To O.E.A.' is the third offering from Claude McKay's black love poetry:

To O.E.A.

Your voice is the color of a robin's


And there's a sweet sob in it like rain--still rain in

the night.

Among the leaves of the trumpet-tree, close to his


The pea-dove sings, and each note thrills me with

strange delight

Like the words, wet with music, that well from I'm afraid of your eyes, they're so bold, shining like gold.

But sometimes they are gentle and soft like the

dew on the lips of the eucharis

Before the sun comes warm with his lover's kiss.

You are sea-foam, pure with the star's loveliness,

Not mortal, a flower, a fairy, too fair for the

beauty-shorn earth.

All wonderful things, all beautiful things, gave of Oh I love you so much, not recking of passion,

that I feel it is wrong!

But men will love you, flower, fairy, non-mortal

spirit burdened with flesh,

Forever, life-long.

After the Winter

Some day, when trees have shed their leaves

And against the morning's white

The shivering birds beneath the eaves

Have sheltered for the night,

We'll turn our faces southward, love,

Toward the summer isle

Where bamboos spire to shafted grove

And wide-mouthed orchids smile.

And we will seek the quiet hill

Where towers the cotton tree,

And leaps the laughing crystal rill,

And works the droning bee.

And we will build a cottage there

Beside an open glade,

With black-ribbed blue-bells blowing near,

And ferns that never fade.

Let us close the curtains on Claude McKay's black love poetry with 'Heritage':


Now the dead past seems vividly alive,

And in this shining moment I can trace,

Down through the vista of the vanished years,

Your faun-like form, your fond elusive face.

And suddenly some secret spring's released,

And unawares a riddle is revealed,

And I can read like large, black-lettered print,

What seemed before a thing forever sealed.

I know the magic word, the graceful thought,

The song that fills me in my lucid hours,

The spirit's wine that thrills my body through,

And makes me music-drunk, are yours, all yours.

I cannot praise, for you have passed from praise,

I have no tinted thoughts to paint you true;

But I can feel and I can write the word;

The best of me is but the least of you.

There is more black love poetry, this time from Anne Spencer:

Anne Spencer

Nikki Giovanni 1

Paul Dunbar

Famous Black Love Poetry 1

African 1

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