Tuesday, December 15, 2009

My Favorite Poem: If We Must Die

This has nothing to do with weight loss surgery (at least not in any way I can think of.) Anyway, after sharing "Invictus," I also wanted to share my favorite poem, Harlem Renaissance poet Claude McKay's "If We Must Die":

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!

I love this poem's cadence and its message of triumph under desperate circumstances, specifically lynching in this case. It has a slightly androcentric feel ("Like men we'll face the murderous, cowardly pack"), but it's such a great poem that I try to overlook that :-)

The ideals set forth in "If We Must Die" are different from those in "Invictus." "Invictus" idealizes stoicism, while "If We Must Die" advocates vigorous self-defense. One could imagine the protagonist of "Invictus" standing still and enduring the "thousand blows" with dignity, with head unbowed, but not necessarily retaliating. The protagonist of "If We Must Die," however, "deal[s] one deathblow" and "fight[s] back."

What's the preferred life philosophy, if any? I'm not sure.

1 comment:

  1. That's a great poem, too--I think I had heard the last two lines before, but I didn't know what they were from.

    And good point about the different points of view. If I recall correctly, the author of "Invictus" was injured in some way....ah, wikipedia-d it; he had tuberculosis and one of his feet and lower legs was amputated.