I Know My Soul Claude McKay, 1889-1948

Biography of Claude McKay- Claude Mckay, Born Festus Claudius Mckay, was born in Sunny Ville Jamaica, in 1889. The son of peasant farmers he was filled with racial pride and a great sense of his African heritage. His literacy interests, though they were in English Poetry. Under the totelage of his brother, schoolteacher Uriah Theophilius McKay, and a neighboring englishman, Walter Jekyll, McKay studied the british masters, including John Milton, Alexander Pope, and the later Romantics. It was Jekyll who advised aspiring poet McKay to stop mimicking the English poets and began producing verse in Jamaican dialect. At age 17 McKay departed from Sunny Ville to apprentice as a woodworker in Browns Town. But he studied there only briefly before leaving to work as a constable in the Jamaican capital, Kingston. In Kingston he experienced and encountered extensive racism, probably for the first time in his life. McKay quickly grew disgusted with the city's bigoted society, and within one year he returned home to Sunny Ville.

Modernist Poetry Time Period- Modernism stretched from the beginning of the 20th century to about 1965. During this time frame, two major wars started and ended, World War I and World War II. Depression filled the streets as the the hard times went on and seemed to never end, but once they did, people and poets realized what was important in life, and wrote about it. They could not constantly live in despair like they had for many years before. Henceforth a new style breaks soil, Modernism. Modernist poetry reflected experimentation, breaking away from traditional ways and individualizing your work. This soon became a virtue because in the past they were very discouraged. Modernism was essentially set in place by a series of cultural shocks. For the writers that thought in the modern way, they did so quite deliberately and self-consciously. A modernist does not care much for nature, being or the the overarching structures of history. Instead they focus on growth and progress. The modernist poets took full advantage of the new found spirit and stretched the possibilities of their craft to new lengths.

Claude McKay's Modernist Works-Claude McKay had not discovered the racism in the world til about the age of 17 and that would later greatly affect his work. McKay wrote about the opposing aspects of black life in Jamaica. Some poems had a happy look on life and others had a bleaker view of urban life in Kingston, which can be seen in Constab Ballads. The poems he wrote varied from celebratory verse of peasant life which can be seen in his poems Songs to Jamaica, to poems challenging white authority in America, which can be seen in The Negro in America, to generally straightforward tales of black life in both Jamaica and America. McKay also wrote more philosophical ambitious fiction addressing instinctual/intellectual duality, which McKay found central to the black individuals efforts in a racist society. McKay never sought to hide his bitterness in his writings, he saw the significance of a negro for mankind as a member of that race. His human pity was the foundation that made all of this possible.

Similar Poems- McKay wrote many poems with similar themes. A similar poem would be his work Harlem Shadows. This poem is about the harsh world and the harsh treatment in a specific place like Harlem. A major theme of this poem would be the African American racism cause that he always supported. The poems are similar because Claude has a strong voice of who he is and who he wants to be. In I Know My Soul he talked of the "awful key to my infinity", and that is very similar to lines in the Harlem Shadows because he talks of the stern harsh world and that is how he sees in the world in both poems, that is his outlook. Another similar poem is Baptism. This poem is more religious than the others but has similar ideas of life. Both center around the role of the soul. The soul to him is strong and can withstand all the tortures of this world, In both he mentions that he knows his soul, and to him that is very important in a world like this.

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