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‘America’ is a poem written by Claude McKay. It sheds light on the love-hate relationship the poet shares with their nation America.
About the Poet:
Claude McKay (1890-1948) was a Jamaican-American poet cum writer. He is known for being a prominent figure in the Harlem Renaissance. Famous works of his include ‘If We Must Die’, ‘Harlem Shadows’, and ‘Home to Harlem’.
The theme of this poem, as the title suggests, is America. Every line of the poem details on the qualities of America, how the persona both loves and hates their country for what it is.
This poet follows the Shakespearean sonnet structure. It consists of fourteen lines divided into three quatrains and a rhyming couplet.
Explanation of the Stanza:
Although she feeds me bread of bitterness, And sinks into my throat her tiger’s tooth, Stealing my breath of life, I will confess I love this cultured hell that tests my youth. Her vigor flows like tides into my blood, Giving me strength erect against her hate, Her bigness sweeps my being like a flood. Yet, as a rebel fronts a king in state, I stand within her walls with not a shred Of terror, malice, not a word of jeer. Darkly I gaze into the days ahead, And see her might and granite wonders there, Beneath the touch of Time’s unerring hand, Like priceless treasures sinking in the sand.
The poem begins with a balancing of the positive and negative aspects of America. The persona states that despite how America makes them suffer, they still love what they call their ‘cultured hell’. At the same time, America also strengthens the persona and awes them by its vastness. The persona then goes on to compare themselves to a rebel who protests against the negative aspects in their kingdom, how they stand without an ounce of fear in them. The poem ends with the persona staring into the future of America and seeing its magnificence fade into nothing with time.
This poem beautifully brings out the love and hate a citizen has for their country. Despite the magnificence of America, the persona is not blind to its flaws. And despite these flaws distressing them, they love the country all the same.