Courage, Claude McKay – an Analysis


Yes please, I’ll have some of that!

Gut Reaction

What does it all mean?
O lonely heart so timid of approach,
Like the shy tropic flower that shuts its lips
To the faint touch of tender finger tips:
What is your word? What question would you broach?

The simile use of a flower shutting itself away from touch I would hazard a guess as to indicating the author is writing to a woman. So, oh shy, sensitive yet possibly romantic (bleugh) lady, what would you ask me if you could? Is that what the author is saying? Or is he saying he knows she is innocent to the ways of the world in terms of relationships?

Your lustrous-warm eyes are too sadly kind
To mask the meaning of your dreamy tale,
Your guarded life too exquisitely frail
Against the daggers of my warring mind.

It’s as though he’s saying her eyes are giving a signal that is somewhat different to the rest of her body, like they’re drawing him in. ‘Too sadly kind’ is an odd phrase. Is her dream, her word, the thing she tells him, saying that it isn’t actually him that she wants? That she leads such a small, sheltered life that is gentle and meek and such a juxtaposition to his own thoughts and existence? ‘The daggers of my warring mind’ suggests he is fighting with something internally – two ideas, two lives… who knows?

There is no part of the unyielding earth,
Even bare rocks where the eagles build their nest,
Will give us undisturbed and friendly rest.
No dewfall softens this vast belt of dearth.

There is something very barren about the start of the third stanza. ‘Unyielding earth’ and ‘bare rocks’ paints a landscape very bleak. It’s as though he is saying alone is not even enough to describe the emptiness he is feeling. He is devoid and lifeless as a result of not receiving the love that he wants.

But in the socket-chiseled teeth of strife,
That gleam in serried files in all the lands,
We may join hungry, understanding hands,
And drink our share of ardent love and life.

This is very odd imagery! I like it a lot! So let’s think. ‘In the socket-chiseled (shaped) teeth of strife’ – perhaps the problems we create for ourselves – ‘that gleam in serried (rows of people or things standing close together) files in all the lands’ – problems that all people have, all people create?
I am uncertain with this one. Perhaps the author is saying, we are all seeking love, and we are all worthy of love, and we can all share in the heartbreak that is not getting the love we want – either through our own mistakes – the strife in all the lands – or through life just being…life.

Form – the vaguely technical stuff
Division and order
For quatrains of iambic pentameter (aside from lines two and ten(

It seems… to tell a short story that starts out hopeful, then desolate, then hopeful again.

Suggested rhyme scheme

Similes and metaphors
The use of the flower that closes up when touched is a beautiful simile.

Author’s relationship with their subject
Well, to start with, it is love, and then it is loss, and then it is hope for love again elsewhere.

Other points of view (ideas from other sources)
Perhaps the author is speaking to his would-be lover who is timid and scared about what to do. Perhaps he is telling her that the world is full of difficulties and the only way through it is to accept others into her life and by loving them, she will be loved in return and get through life better than if she tried to do it all alone.
Maybe it is simply about daring to dream despite life being harsh and full of difficulties.

Signing off
So. You meet the love of your life and you know they are the one for you… but they are just not ready. They have either led a sheltered life or been too hurt to allow you into their world just yet. It’s too much too soon. And so you lose them. The world for you suddenly seems barren and cold without them, and you notice nothing but the bad things in the world. And then, when you are out of your glumness, you start to realise that everyone in the world suffers similar problems – love, loss, missed opportunities. We have all fought our battles. We have all won. We have all lost. And by going through this, really, you are never alone, and you are just as deserving of love as the next lost fool out there. So chin up, carry on, all will be well!

The imagery in this poem I find intriguing, I love the play of the softness and hardness of nature – unyielding earth, socket-chiselled teeth, and shy tropic flower.




When I read this I think of the song… Come On Eileen… I do not apologise…


3 thoughts on “Courage, Claude McKay – an Analysis

    • Well, I guess the easy answer is ‘yes’ 🙂 I think like all poetry there are multiple ways of interpreting this, but courage is a good theme. Now, whether the courage is for the poet’s beloved, trying to tell them to have courage in being with him, or telling himself to have courage – faith/hope that his lover will come around – or even finding his courage in realising that he is not alone in feeling heartbroken because everyone goes through it – that is another question entirely 🙂 xx


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