National Poetry Month

student Recommendations

"The Lynching" by Claude McKay

Lynching: to be put to death, especially by hanging, by mob action and without legal authority. Most commonly practiced on black people following the emancipation of enslaved blacks. The history of lynching is deeply rooted into American culture and was a cruel, inhuman, and horrifying way to kill blacks. Mobs would form around blacks and they would beat them, torture them, hang them from tree and even burn their bodies.

I would recommend Claude McKay's poem,"the lynching" because of its beautiful yet painful way of conveying the horrifying images of lynching. The poem uses daunting diction to recreate the horrors of lynching while weaving fate and spirituality into the poem like a cry for help. The poem's first half starts with a spiritual call to the hanged body. It talks about how his "spirit in smoke" ascends to heaven. McKay weaves the horrifying imagery of the smoke off burning flesh and the beautiful image of ascension into heaven into an elegant, yet chilling line. During the first half a type of Christ imagery is used to describe the lynching in terms of the black man. Lines like "cruelest way of pain," and "had hidden him to His bosom" all have similarities to Jesus's death on the cross.

The second half of the poem focuses more on the horrifying and literal imagery of what is going on. "The ghastly body swaying in the sun," the body "hung pitifully o'er the swinging chat." These all have a harsher, more grotesque diction. The second half also focuses on the white crowd instead of the black man. The words used are cold and menacing. They are filled with hate, the hate that Claude McKay had felt not only from the whites, but towards the whites. The last couple of line reveal a chilling truth to the world he lived in, where he says, "the little lads, lynchers that were to be, danced around the dreadful thing in fiendish glee."

McKay expertly manages to grasp the horrifying images he saw and managed to write them down in a way that makes even the most joyful person disheartened. The poem begins by describing the ascension of a black man and the deep sadness and pain that goes with it. It then twists into and explains the horrifying image of this death and explains the anger behind it, explains the disgust behind it, and explains the hopelessness behind it.

- Recommended by Kaleb Ephrem '20

The Lynching

His Spirit in smoke ascended to high heaven.
His father, by the cruelest way of pain,
Had bidden him to his bosom once again;
The awful sin remained still unforgiven.All night a bright and solitary star
(Perchance the one that ever guided him,
Yet gave him up at last to Fate's wild whim)
Hung pitifully o'er the swinging chat.
Day dawned, and soon the mixed crowds came to view
The ghastly body swaying in the sun
The women thronged to look, but never a one
Showed sorrow in her eyes of steely blue;
And the little lads, lynchers that were to be,
Danced round the dreadful thing in fiendish glee.

a spirit of april

For ages, poets—William Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson, and Langston Hughes, to name but a few—have been inspired by the month of April. From Geoffrey Chaucer’s famous celebration of April’s “sweet showers” in his opening to The Caterbury Tales to T.S. Eliot’s unforgettable lament in “The Wasteland” that “April is the cruelest month,” April figures prominently in some of the greatest poems. Perhaps this is because as both in nature and the spiritual season of Easter, April is a time of renewal and rebirth, a time when nature explodes with new warmth, new color, new life--or as the great Jesuit poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, wrote in his poem, “Spring,” “all this juice and all this joy.”

Thus, it is fitting that April is National Poetry Month. To celebrate and to promote the reading of contemporary poetry, the SLUH Junior English teachers are sharing a poetry “recommendation” from a SLUH junior of a memorable poem on each of the remaining school days in April, a product of the Junior English independent poetry project. Please sample and enjoy these poems and nominations; though many will offer the opportunity, as Robert Frost famously quipped about poetry, to “begin in delight and end in wisdom,” you may find some of these poems will challenge you, even push you toward growth that may make you uncomfortable. Please know we offer these poem's in a spirit of goodwill and, well, a spirit of April.

- Mr. Kavanaugh and the Junior English Team