Sunday, April 17, 2011

If We Must Die by Claude McKay

If We Must Die

by Claude McKay

If we must die, let it not be like hogs

Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,

While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,

Making their mock at our accursed lot.

If we must die, O let us nobly die,

So that our precious blood may not be shed

In vain; then even the monsters we defy

Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!

O kinsmen we must meet the common foe!

Though far outnumbered let us show us brave,

And for their thousand blows deal one deathblow!

What though before us lies the open grave?

Like men we'll face the murderous, cowardly pack,

Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!

If We Must Die was written in 1919 at the end of World War I in response to race riots and the violence that had escalated between blacks and whites. It is regarded as a strong political poem that was originally intended for black readers, but grew to include a universal audience. In fact, Winston Churchill used the poem in a speech in the House of Commons during World War II and many British soldiers carried the poem with them into battle. The poem speaks to the validation and recognition of the value of human life.


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