Thursday, October 23, 2008

Claude McKay, Poet Extraordinaire-1

Claude McKay is such an important poet (and novelist) that I think I'll do a whole series of posts on him. He was born in Clarendon, Jamaica in 1889 but moved to the United States in 1912, after serving as a police officer and publishing his first collection of poetry; Songs of Jamaica. I'll begin by exposing you to one of his very nolstalgic poems, the first one, reminscent of Wordsworth's Daffodils, is (or used to be) memorised by Jamaican school children as a matter of course. Any Jamaican in the thirty something age group remembers this?

The Spanish Needle

Lovely dainty Spanish needle

With your yellow flower and white,

Dew bedecked and softly sleeping,

Do you think of me to-night?

Shadowed by the spreading mango,

Nodding o'er the rippling stream,

Tell me, dear plant of my childhood,

Do you of the exile dream?

Do you see me by the brook's side

Catching crayfish 'neath the stone,

As you did the day you whispered:

Leave the harmless dears alone?

Do you see me in the meadow

Coming from the woodland spring

With a bamboo on my shoulder

And a pail slung from a string?

Do you see me all expectant

Lying in an orange grove,

While the swee-swees sing above me,

Waiting for my elf-eyed love?

Lovely dainty Spanish needle,

Source to me of sweet delight,

In your far-off sunny southland

Do you dream of me to-night?

Claude McKay


Guyana-Gyal said...

It does bring back innocence and idyllic times, doesn't it?

Did he write a poem about the banana man?

Abeni said...

Spanish needle is a flower?

Jacqueline Smith said...

Hi GG,
I continue to enjoy your blog, especially the fact that you use the Guyanese dialect. You and jdid do an excellect job writing in your dialects.

But on to your question. No Claude Mckay did not write "Song of the Banana Man" Evan Jones did. That's another well loved poem.

Yes, that's a picture of it at the top. It's actually a weed that grows wild in the countryside. People do their best to keep it out of their gardens. I makes good rabbit food for people who rear them. But it's such a part of the landscape here that if you went away from home for a while, it's likely to be one of the sights that your memory would easily conjure up.

Jamaican Dawta said...

Oh yes, I remember. In fact, I blogged about him and two of his poems a while back. :)

Daisy Soap Girl said...

Reading your post on Claude McKay brings me back to my coming of age days in the 1960's and 1970's. A time when when I was reading about the Harlem Renaissance; reading James Baldwin, Amiri Baraka, James Weldon Johnson,Claude McKay and feeling especially proud of my heritage. Two of his writings especially moved me...If We Must Die and The Lynching. Thanks for the good memories.

Stephen Bess said...

The Harlem Renaissance would have to be called something else without the works of writers like Claude McKay. He was fantastic.

Jacqueline Smith said...

Welcome Jamaican Dawta,
We learnt quite a number of poems like in primary school. I don't remember being forced to memorise any in high school. Remember this one?

I Wonder, By Jeannie Kirby.
Iwonderwhythegrassisgreen andwhythewindisneverseen

Then there was

Nature, by H.D Carberry

We have neither Summer nor Winter
Neither Autumn nor Spring.
We have instead the days
When the gold sun shines on the lush green canefields-
The days when the rain beats like bullets on the roofs
And there is no sound but the swish of water in the gullies
And trees struggling in the high Jamaica winds.
Also there are the days when leaves fade from off guango trees
And the reaped canefields lie bare and fallow to the sun.
But best of all there are the days when the mango and the
logwood blossom
When the bushes are full of the sound of bees and the scent of
When the tall grass sways and shivers to the slightest breath of
When the buttercups have paved the earth with yellow stars
And beauty comes suddenly and the rains have gone.

Did it do us harm or good that they made us learn these poems?

Yes Del,
Thanks for that list, I do not know who are the other writers of the Harlem Renaissance, I could only think of Langston Hughs. Your list will help me with my research. I will be getting to the poems that brought him accaim, like those two you mentioned. Stay tuned!

Claude Mckay's influence was far-reaching to say the least, and with good reason. More soon.

Ruthibelle said...

this man writes about flowers like he's doling out lyrics to a lover... simply beautiful! Somewhere in my future life, i wanna write like that!!