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Exhortation: Summer 1919 - Poem by Claude McKay

Through the pregnant universe rumbles life's terrific thunder,
And Earth's bowels quake with terror; strange and terrible storms break,
Lightning-torches flame the heavens, kindling souls of men, thereunder:
Africa! long ages sleeping, O my motherland, awake!

In the East the clouds glow crimson with the new dawn that is breaking,
And its golden glory fills the western skies.
O my brothers and my sisters, wake! arise!
For the new birth rends the old earth and the very dead are waking,
Ghosts are turned flesh, throwing off the grave's disguise,
And the foolish, even children, are made wise;
For the big earth groans in travail for the strong, new world in making--
O my brothers, dreaming for dim centuries,
Wake from sleeping; to the East turn, turn your eyes!

Oh the night is sweet for sleeping, but the shining day's for working;
Sons of the seductive night, for your children's children's sake,
From the deep primeval forests where the crouching leopard's lurking,
Lift your heavy-lidded eyes, Ethiopia! awake!

In the East the clouds glow crimson with the new dawn that is breaking,
And its golden glory fills the western skies.
O my brothers and my sisters, wake! arise!
For the new birth rends the old earth and the very dead are waking,
Ghosts have turned flesh, throwing off the grave's disguise,
And the foolish, even children, are made wise;
For the big earth groans in travail for the strong, new world in making--
O my brothers, dreaming for long centuries,
Wake from sleeping; to the East turn, turn your eyes!


Comments about Exhortation: Summer 1919 by Claude McKay

  • Rookie Jason Hendrickson (5/13/2006 6:00:00 AM)

    Hello,
    I was in the process of researching for a paper when I came across your message; I'll gladly explain some of the dynamics at work in McKay's poem.
    The best way to understand McKay's poem is to look at the title. There is one part that is obviousMcKay is essentially making a call to action on the part of African-Americans of the day (explaining why he chooses to title it 'Exhortation'; what people generally overlook is the significance of 'Summer 1919.' The Summer of 1919 is actually a reference to what is more commonly known as the 'Red Summer, ' a period between May and December of that year that would feature a record number of lynchings of African-Americans throughout the country (both in the South and the Midwest) . McKay's constant references to the East are of course a reference to mother Africa, which is not accidental; 1919 was also the year that Marcus Garvey would see the height of his 'Back To Africa' movement, which carried a sizable following in America and the West Indies. The Harlem Renaissance also brought about a heightened awareness of Africa for Black Americans, and McKay is indeed writing out of this period. After the end of WWI, Black soldiers were returning home to a country that allowed them to fight under its flag abroad yet refused to grant them equal rights at home because of Jim Crow segregation. This is what prompts McKay to write this 'exhortation.'
    McKay's constant reference to 'crimson' is significant as well. While it conjures imagery of a new day/age, it also may be interpreted as a foreboding warning to violence or as a reference to lynching (red/crimson imagery in African-American literature has traditionally referenced violence, as in J.W. Johnson's -Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man- and Richard Wright's -Uncle Tom's Children-) . The poem incorporates this trope to reference the 'Red' Summer and possibly foretell of future violence that could result from this 'awakening.'
    McKay of course is most famous for his poem 'If We Must Die, ' (definitely worth a look) also written around this time. Ironically, Winston Churchill would use the poem to exhort British soldiers in WWII nearly two decades later.
    I apologize for the lengthy response; I was very disappointed at the poem's low rating and thought that perhaps the poem was misunderstood. Poetry of course should provide a certain sense of immediate satisfaction, but it is indeed written within the confines of history and should be appreciated as such (which is why I was glad you posed the question about the poem) . I hope that this (lengthy) explanation helps in appreciating this poem (and McKay's work as a whole) : -)

    Best,
    Jason (Report) Reply

    6 person liked.
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  • Rookie Laura McPharren (5/8/2006 5:29:00 PM)

    This is a mind-boggling poem. I am confused about the exact theme, there seems to be multiple ones. I would very much like an explanation, if anyone is willing to provide me with one. Thank you.

    Laura McPharren (Report) Reply

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Poems About Summer

  1. 1. Summer Sun , Robert Louis Stevenson
  2. 2. Summer In The South , Paul Laurence Dunbar
  3. 3. Before Summer Rain , Rainer Maria Rilke
  4. 4. Summer , Alexander Pope
  5. 5. Written On A Summer Evening , John Keats
  6. 6. Summer , John Clare
  7. 7. The Summer Rain , Henry David Thoreau
  8. 8. A Summer Afternoon , James Whitcomb Riley
  9. 9. In The Summer , Nizar Qabbani
  10. 10. A Summer Day , Lucy Maud Montgomery
  11. 11. Exhortation: Summer 1919 , Claude McKay
  12. 12. Indian Summer , Dorothy Parker
  13. 13. Summer Stars , Carl Sandburg
  14. 14. Bed In Summer , Robert Louis Stevenson
  15. 15. To Summer , William Blake
  16. 16. Between The Dusk Of A Summer Night , William Ernest Henley
  17. 17. I See The Boys Of Summer , Dylan Thomas
  18. 18. I Know I Am But Summer To Your Heart , Edna St. Vincent Millay
  19. 19. A Summer Evening Churchyard, Lechlade, G.. , Percy Bysshe Shelley
  20. 20. Skeletons Of Summer , Ernestine Northover
  21. 21. Summer Wind , William Cullen Bryant
  22. 22. Seasonal Cycle - Chapter 01 - Summer , Kalidasa
  23. 23. Summer Shower , Emily Dickinson
  24. 24. Farm Boy After Summer , Robert Francis
  25. 25. A Night-Rain In Summer , James Henry Leigh Hunt
  26. 26. Rain In Summer , Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
  27. 27. Summer Dawn , Spike Milligan
  28. 28. Tis The Last Rose Of Summer , Thomas Moore
  29. 29. Portrait Number Five: Against A New York.. , Jack Gilbert
  30. 30. An Indian Summer Day On The Prairie , Vachel Lindsay
  31. 31. Indian Summer , Henry Van Dyke
  32. 32. Summer Holiday , Robinson Jeffers
  33. 33. Summer Night, Riverside , Sara Teasdale
  34. 34. Summer Morn In New Hampshire , Claude McKay
  35. 35. Indian Summer , Sara Teasdale
  36. 36. Early Summer Rain , Yosa Buson
  37. 37. As Sleigh Bells Seem In Summer , Emily Dickinson
  38. 38. Summer Evening , John Clare
  39. 39. 'Tis Moonlight, Summer Moonlight , Emily Jane Brontë
  40. 40. Once Upon A Summer Day , Joseph T. Renaldi
  41. 41. The Summer I Was Sixteen , Geraldine Connolly
  42. 42. Summer For Thee, Grant I May Be , Emily Dickinson
  43. 43. Summer In The Mountains , Li Po
  44. 44. Moonlight, Summer Moonlight , Emily Jane Brontë
  45. 45. It Can'T Be "Summer"! , Emily Dickinson
  46. 46. Summer Images , John Clare
  47. 47. Visiting A Dead Man On A Summer Day , Marge Piercy
  48. 48. In Spring And Summer Winds May Blow , Walter Savage Landor
  49. 49. Summer In The Country , Charles Simic
  50. 50. Summer , Amy Lowell
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