Claude McKay

(15 September 1889 – 22 May 1948 / Clarendon)

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 accursèd 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 death-blow!
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!

Submitted: Friday, January 03, 2003

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  • Nadine Graybeal (3/31/2014 8:58:00 PM)

    Nadine Graybeal
    AML-2600-50456
    03/31/2014

    Claude McKay was one of the famous poems in the Harlem Renaissance time. In Claude McKay’s poem “If We Must Die” he uses imagery and describes the poem to deliver feeling by comparing the problems to symbols like animals or objects that his readers can relate to. He was referring to the bloodshed and massacre of 1919. The speaker seems to portray the enemy in many different ways. He represents the opponent as vicious dogs getting ready to hunt on their prey. He then makes it seem as if the dogs are more than hungry that they end up being some type of vicious cold-hearted beast who torture their pray rather than consume them. Then he speaks of the enemy as being a monster because dogs are too human to be portrayed as what is being represented. McKay’s poem represents more of a stand your ground and fight back action. He wanted the people not to be afraid of standing up for themselves. With all of the fight the people will end up dying, but he is saying if we must die, at least we can choose how we will die. We can die with dignity if we choose too! McKay wants them to give it their all so they can die proud.

    Word Count: 213 (Report) Reply

  • Mai Xiong (3/31/2014 7:42:00 PM)

    Mai Xiong
    AML-2600-50456
    March 31,2014
    In Claude McKay’s “If We Must Die”, McKay uses imagery and description to convey how African Americans felt towards whites. McKay's powerful lines, If we must die, let it not be like hogs and Though far outnumbered let us show us brave tells his friends to stand up for themselves. During this time period, African Americans were still being disrespected and treated harshly. Mckay sends out a message to be brave because their blood are just as precious as anyone else's. Mckay states that if they were to die, they must die nobly. Although they may die in this fight for freedom, at least they were fighting for something they truly believe in. Mckay wanted to send an encouraging message to give strength to the African American community. This poem resembles peasant life more than militant because just like peasants, they were treated unequal and like hogs. If the community gather up together, they can make a difference and they will be able to beat those who are the cowardly pack.
    Word Count: 171 (Report) Reply

  • Kimberly Mclean (3/31/2014 7:11:00 PM)

    In the poem, the emotion I received was a sense of endurance and pain. African-Americans being owned by someone. Even though they were physically owned, their mind was the one thing that no one could confiscate from them. It tears me apart inside to imagine how they must have felt knowing that their lives were going to be taken away, without a pure logical explanation as to why. Slave owners made blacks feel like they were nothing, had nothing valuable to offer to society, which is why extinguishing them was agreed to be some sort of solution to the American society. Which brings the reference to animals such as hogs McKay used to describe how poorly African-Americans were treated. Pigs were used in the Bible to describe how unsanitary it was to devour to our bodies. Towards the end of the poem, McKay expressed that if they were going to die, at least have them leave some dignity behind, after fighting a long hard fight. (Report) Reply

  • Tiffany Edmead (3/31/2014 2:20:00 PM)

    Tiffany Edmead
    AML 2600-50456
    March 31,2014
    Claude McKay’s “If We must Die” conveys so much power behind each word of this riveting poem. When reading this, as an African American, I can not help but to sense an overwhelming feeling of rebellion and pride. In so many cases African Americans have been treated less than human. In former years we as a people were looked upon as less than a dog, sneered at as if we were not of the human variety but yet a less than worthy being. In the poem, Claude McKay references these animals that my fore father was treated as, hogs and dogs. This fits securely into the rest of his bodies of work, which displays a strong, exuberant stance on equal rights. In this poem he asks to be upheld to the highest regard, “then even the monsters we defy shall be constrained to honor us though dead! ” In this piece he reminds us that in death and in valor we are all human. (Report) Reply

  • Alvon Hart (3/30/2014 8:21:00 PM)

    Alvon Hart
    AML 2600-50456
    March 30,2014

    Claude McKay was considered one of the first African American poets of the Harlem Renaissance. Claude helped to shape the trends that would later define the literary movement with African Americans. In the poem “If We Must Die” Claude McKay uses vivid imagery and description he compares the life of an African American being hunted to the lowest of all animals a “hog” being hunted. Although African Americans are far from a hog, sadly and very unjustly African Americans were once treated that way, we were once being hunted, we were once being cornered and slaughtered just the same. McKay uses the comparison to let the world know how African Americans were treated back then and to let the world know that no matter what African Americans wanted to die a noble death as well. “If we must die, O let us nobly die”. This piece of work does not fit into the militant life but it does however somewhat fit into the life of a peasant. (Report) Reply

  • Crystal Melton (3/30/2014 1:06:00 PM)

    Crystal Melton
    AML-2600-50456
    March 30,2014
    In Claude McKay’s “If We Must Die”, McKay employs the comparison of an undesirable death as that of being to hogs. The comparison relates to how one may be cornered by the enemy and tortured until killed. Slaughter is the image that instantly comes to my mind in his opening lines. This presents that if there is an inevitable end then let it be of a noble death. McKay describes our blood as “precious” which makes us feel that we are of value therefore avoiding the loss of our lives to not go in vain. This would in turn force those who wish us dead to face our legacy after death. No matter how many foe’s we may face, McKay speaks of not allowing fear to overcome us but rather to face them with strength and bravery. If we are going down, let us go down fighting even though one may be cornered, out-numbered, and faced with the inevitable end.
    Word count: 166 (Report) Reply

  • Bertha Mitchell (3/30/2014 10:49:00 AM)

    Bertha M. Mitchell
    Professor Charity Freeman
    African American Literature – AML 2600-50456
    30 March 2014

    In Claude McKay’s “If We Must Die”, he uses one of the lowest and degraded animals in the animal kingdom a “hog” as a comparative to the one being hunted, as it appears outnumbered. His visual comparison of the hunters to “mad and hungry dogs” offers additional colloquialism into the savagery that awaits the prey. Claude McKay sets the film of imagination to show the prey being hunted by the beast of prey. This descriptive is open ended and could be synonymous with situations and acts of inequality. Although the hunted is clearly in no position to defeat the beast of prey as he accounts in: “And for their thousand blows deal one deathblow”, there is still a plea by the one being hunted with his fellow kinsmen to fight nonetheless. This work deserves parallel inclusion with his other works, as it timeless and depicts raw emotion and in this case of anger and bravery in deed and verbalization. Claude McKay doesn’t spare the feelings of his readers in his works, as the incidents and issues were true to him as a radical writer, and he wanted to convey the truth regardless of the audience or the moral ugliness of his interpretation and view of the issues.

    Word Count: 203 (Report) Reply

  • Sherri Thomas (3/29/2014 10:10:00 PM)

    AML 2600-50456

    Claude McKay’s poem “If We Must Die” conveys the feeling of the poem through imagery and clever descriptions. For example, when he says, “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”. Written during the summer of 1919 when prejudice and injustice ran rampant against African Americans who were hunted down and pursued like hogs. Since hogs live in a pen that is usually crowded and smells horribly, McKay wanted to demonstrate the way that African American’s were being treated with a lack of respect and dignity. This poem was a way to call African American’s into action and fight the injustices that have been placed upon them. He goes on to suggest that their blood shed should not be in vain and that they die a noble death fighting a battle that they may never win, but still fight to the end to make their point. (Report) Reply

  • Marcia Simon (3/27/2014 11:32:00 AM)

    AML 2600

    If We Must Die is one of those poem that spike my interest because it talks about the way we should not die. The poet used a hog and the way hogs live in line two to describe the way a person should not die. They are penned and live in flit continuously not knowing that they are living unhealthy. The descriptive words such as inglorious, mad, angry, murderous, and cowardly clearly state how the poet feel about the way he does not want to die. The poet explains how we should die more noble. I have thought about dying in this same way. For example, dying at home, in my bed and fall asleep. Dying unexpectedly in a car crash, plane crash or even by a bullet is not the way anyone should die, but we do not whole our future in our hands. It is same with our lives journey and how we struggle through life. We need to fight back what life has put before us whether it is good or bad. (Report) Reply

  • Toniqua Quick (11/3/2013 11:02:00 PM)

    “If We Must Die” uses various words to determine the writer’s feelings. Words’ such as “haunted”, “mad” and “hungry” are some of the descriptive words used throughout the poem. “If We Must Dies” uses descriptive imagery to better educate the reader of the situation. This work of art doesn’t relate to militant life or relationship issues, but it still can relate to “The Blues”. The individual in the poem describes their feelings toward being treated with respect when they become deceased versus being treated like an animal. The writer provided several examples to indicate some of the disheartening abuse that people experienced and how they would unfortunately die from the abuse. (Report) Reply

  • Vanessa Buford (11/3/2013 9:56:00 PM)

    Throughout “If We Must Die, ” Claude McKay establishes a code of conduct for the struggle against tyranny, oppression, and injustice. It is this code which allows for a moral struggle against those who debase themselves through acts of oppression. Although inspired to speak out against racial hatred and violence, the poem’s universal nature acknowledges the plight of oppressed people of all races, color, and creed. McKay urges that only commitment and militancy will overcome severe and lethal opposition. (Report) Reply

  • Otistus Leech (11/2/2013 8:15:00 PM)

    Throughout the Sonnet “If We Must Die”, Claude McKay utilizes descriptive and comparison terminology by inferring that if we must die let it not be like hogs which are hunted down and caged in inhumane areas but let us die with honor for showing bravery while fighting a battle that we know cannot be won. This specific sonnet create feelings of inspiration and motivation for readers during the period of time when anti-black riots seem to transcend beyond the norm, thus prompting readers to believe that this particular poem referred specifically to whites and blacks. An insinuation of such can be concluded that since McKay was a worker for social change he believed that black poets censored their poetry to prevent from offending white readers (AAL 2nd Edition pg 1006 paragraph 2) . However, I feel McKay contradicts his belief after gaining recognition in regards to this particular sonnet because he and many others felt the sonnet would offend white readers. (Report) Reply

  • Ashley Toussaint (11/2/2013 4:24:00 PM)

    McKay’s poem “if we must die” fit into the militant challenge of his body of work. The title itself “if we must die” is a call for militant action. Though if and must are contradictory terms, the sense of compulsory and necessity resonates throughout the poem. The poem in general is a call to action to all blacks to stand up against the wicked and criminal mistreatment of whites by fighting back. As supported in lines 9 and 14 “O kinsmen! We must meet our common foe! ”; “pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back! ” McKay’s poem urges blacks to be brave and fight back because death through the mistreatment of whites is imminent. “What though before us lies the open grave? ” And since it is imminent, then death should be noble: “If we must die, O let us nobly die, so that our precious blood may not be shed in vain”. (Report) Reply

  • Alessia Maganuco (4/5/2012 4:49:00 PM)

    Alessia Maganuco. Claude McKay, the first major poet of the Harlem Renaissance. The main thing Claude McKay did to show imagery and description in the poem “If We Must Die” to convey feeling is to shape the trends that would later define that literary moment. He was able to indulge and arouse many black readers. Many African American were fascinated to his poetry by his frequently explosive condemnations of bigotry and oppression. He helped disclose some of the unifying principles underlying the major conflicting themes of the writers of them Harlem Renaissance. In addition, the Negro Renaissance gave voice to the new spirit awakening in the 1920’s; but the new militancy indicated that the long journey down the harsh years of history had ascended to read the good life ahead. My personal favorite line from the poem “If We Must Die” is: “like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack, pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back.” That line symbolizes strength and fortitude from Claude McKay. (Report) Reply

  • Alessia Maganuco (4/5/2012 4:46:00 PM)

    Alessia Maganuco
    Claude McKay, the first major poet of the Harlem Renaissance. The main thing Claude McKay did to show imagery and description in the poem “If We Must Die” to convey feeling is to shape the trends that would later define that literary moment. He was able to indulge and arouse many black readers. Many African American were fascinated to his poetry by his frequently explosive condemnations of bigotry and oppression. He helped disclose some of the unifying principles underlying the major conflicting themes of the writers of them Harlem Renaissance. In addition, the Negro Renaissance gave voice to the new spirit awakening in the 1920’s; but the new militancy indicated that the long journey down the harsh years of history had ascended to read the good life ahead. My personal favorite line from the poem “If We Must Die” is: “like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack, pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back.” That line symbolizes strength and fortitude from Claude McKay. (Report) Reply

  • Amanda Cruz (4/1/2012 8:36:00 PM)

    Claude McKay’s poem “If We Must Die” shows us that no one really wants to die, but if we must, we want to die fighting. Claude McKay’s imagery in this poem shows an awfully dreadful death of one dying like a “hog” said to be “hunted and penned” somewhere that it cannot get out. This is exactly how Claude McKay does not want to die. He wants to die gloriously and in some way that he will be honored for years to come. In all reality, he is simply portraying how everyone does not want to die, but instead how they want to be remembered after death and how they want to be fighting for their life until the very end not cornered somewhere where they are forced to surrender. He shows how we all want to be able to say that we were “brave” and “like men we’ll face the murderous” and fight back for as long as we can. (Report) Reply

  • Alexander innocent (4/1/2012 5:12:00 PM)

    If We Must Die was a compelling poem by Claude McKay. This evoking sonnet was written during the “Red Summer” of 1919. Allied Forces in the World War II unofficially used it as a rallying cry. Although McKay said this poem was not particularly referred to blacks and whites, it is easy to see that it is, to me at least. The imagery of the sonnet shows the oppressed or the disadvantaged fight for their dignity against their opponents. He mentions to die in such honor that their adversaries would have no choice but to awe at their fearlessness. McKay’s sonnet is like a speech that is aimed to rally the crowd before battle. He uses vivid metaphors to convey feelings such as, “… let it not be like hogs [h]unted and penned in an inglorious spot, [w]hile round us bark the mad and hungry dogs, [m]aking their mock at our accursed lot[, ]” which means to not be like cowards against the oppressors while being sworn and jeered at. He conveys the feelings of what is literal in a metaphor to reality, or to the disadvantaged. This poem was widely accepted, for it speaks to the public in conflict. (Report) Reply

  • Amir Khan (4/1/2012 4:24:00 PM)

    This poem is a call to African American men to fight for their rights. McKay makes the reader not only see these developments in his or her mind’s eye, but also he empowers the reader to hear the sound. In If We Must Die, McKay represents the enemy in several ways, but especially as dogs. The barking of the hungry dogs is a like sound image, which intensifies the savagery of the tyrant. On the other side he refers the death as sacred and uses a hog metaphor to insist that death should be in a noble way and not like hog which are sometime killed without reason. In Christian theology, Jesus is a major example of death made meaningful; his death is seen as a noble sacrifice through which all Christians are redeemed from sin. So the overall message in the poem is to tell his brothers that Instead of sitting passively by and being treated like animals, they should fight bravely. (Report) Reply

  • Bernard Scott (3/22/2010 3:20:00 PM)

    'During his address to the American Congress in his effort to encourage American aid and American entry in the fight against German Nazi, Winston Churchill, UK prime minister, concluded his speech by a reading of McKay's famous poem 'If We Must Die.'

    http: /www.nathanielturner.com/claudemckay.htm (Report) Reply

  • Kadeja Bailey (1/24/2010 10:40:00 AM)

    the poem is about dieing with honor sumting that many people have forgotten........... to look death deep in the eyes and not be afraid.it is black pride and wearing our color with respect even when faced with ridicule it is about dieing a man...... rather than living as a coward! ! ! ! (Report) Reply

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