the first three paragraphs of Melvin B. Tolson's review of Claude McKay's Selected Poems in the February 1954 issue of Poetry--
with reference to "If We Must Die"


Selected Poems of Claude McKay, with an Introduction by John Dewey and a Biographical Note by Max Eastman. Bookman Associates. $2.75.

During the last world war, Sir Winston Churchill snatched Claude McKay's poem, "If We Must Die," from the closet of the Harlem Renaissance, and paraded in it before the House of Commons, as if it were the talismanic uniform of His Majesty's field marshal.

The double signature of the role would not have gone undeciphered by the full-blooded African poet who could avouch, in spite of apartheid: "I have never regarded myself as a 'Negro' poet. I have always felt that my gift of song was something bigger than the narrow limits of any people and its problems."

And yet, in the sestet of "The Negro's Tragedy," with its passive voice becoming an artery for an active idea, McKay declares the poetry "is urged out of my blood"; and then his raw, taut finality bristles in the monosyllables, "There is no white man who could write my book."