Claude McKay I: Influence of the Harlem Renaissance
By: Lauren Van Roosendaal


Claude McKay was a journalist, a poet, and a novelist during the Harlem Renassiance. Claude McKay was born in Jamaica on September 15th, 1890. His parents were peasant farmers so at a young age he learned about racial pride and African American history. He was the youngest of 11 children in his family. He started to write in school as a schoolboy and especially loved to right poetry. He learned from his older brother who was a school teacher.

Later on in his life he worked as a policeman in Spanish Town and whould write poems in his free time. In 1912, when he was twenty-two, he immigrated the the United States and there he created his first volume of poems called Songs of Jamaica and it was published that year. In 1917 he published two sonnets about black life in America. During the 1920's he moved to Europe to study communism and then moved back to the United States in 1934 to Harlem, New York. In Harlem he got involved with spirtitual and political leaders and started to help make a change in the Harlem Renaissance and wrote many poems about the time period.

Poetry Analysis:

Harlem Shadows
I hear the halting footsteps of a lass
In Negro Harlem when the night lets fallIts veil.
I see the shapes of girls who pass
Eager to heed desire's insistent call:
Ah, little dark girls, who in slippered feet
Go prowling through the night from street to street.

Through the long night until the silver break
Of day the little gray feet know no rest,
Through the lone night until the last snow-flake
Has dropped from heaven upon the earth's white breast,
The dusky, half-clad girls of tired feet
Are trudging, thinly shod, from street to street.

Ah, stern harsh world, that in the wretched way
Of poverty, dishonor and disgrace,
Has pushed the timid little feet of clay.
The sacred brown feet of my fallen race!
Ah, heart of me, the weary, weary feet
In Harlem wandering from street to street.


Claude McKay lived in Harlem during the time of the Harlem Renaissance so he witnessed what was going on at that time with African American segregation and people trying to make a change to create equality. He wrote a few poems that expressed his opinions of black unequality and one of those poems about Harlem specifically was "Harlem Shadows." Claude McKay uses many poetry terms like word choice, metaphors, and imagery to get his ideas across about the life of an African American during this time period.
McKay uses the words "poverty" {14}, "dishonor" {14}, and "disgrace" {14} to get a feeling to the reader and explain what the reader should feel about black segreagation. These words show how black people were treated by whites and most were in the economic status of poverty. A line said in this poem is "of the day the little gray feet know no rest" {8}. Black people had to work a lot and they were very tired just like this line of the poem says. In Harlem there wasn't any field work but before the Harlem Renaissance was started many blacks lived in the south and worked in the cotton fields. A common theme expressed in this poem is the line "from street to street" {6}{12}{18}. This doesn't mean that people a literally walking on the street it means that people are moving around and making change because of the hard things that have occured in their lives. The big thing was to move to Harlem because people were starting to express ideas especially through the arts.
Claude McKay moved to many places in his life and in each place blacks were treated in a different way. He used his poetry, writting, and books to voice opinions to the world to make a change and stand up for equality. The poem "Harlem Shadows" is a great way to voice how African Americans lived and who they want to be and what they are becoming to be. He has been a person to express reasons for change from the time he was a school boy to the time of his death. Let his ideas of segregation live on.

Works Cited:
Claude McKay links." Claude McKay links. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Mar. 2015. <
Hayden, Robert. "Claude McKay : The Poetry Foundation." Poetry Foundation. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Mar. 2012. <>.
Claude McKay : Biography." Spartacus Educational. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Mar. 2012. <
"The biography of Claude McKay - life story." PoemHunter.Com - Thousands of poems and poets. Poetry Search Engine. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Mar. 2012. <>.
"Claude McKay's Life." Welcome to English « Department of English, College of LAS, University of Illinois. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Mar. 2012. <