If We Must Die


If we must die, O let us nobly die, So that our precious blood may not be shed. "If We Must Die" is a poem by Claude McKay published in the July 1919 issue of The Liberator.McKay wrote the poem as a response to mob attacks by white Americans upon African-American communities during Red Summer.

What problem expressed in the first line grouping of "If We Must Die" helps reveal the meaning of the poem. And for their thousand blows deal one death-blow! When he calls this death "inglorious," we get a sense that his criteria for evaluation do not turn on the amount of violence or the loss of life—these are unfortunately a given—but rather the conditions under which they die. So that our precious blood may not be shed Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!

It means fighting back until the enemy must proclaim your valor even in your death. The speaker urges his allies not to give up without a fight. Though far outnumbered let us show us brave,

If we must die, let it not be like hogs. Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot, While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs, Making their mock at our accursèd lot. See All Poems by this Author In a 1939 letter McKay reported that a Jewish friend of his had assumed the poem must be about the European Jews persecuted by Hitler, and McKay told his friend that he was "happy he was moved by the universal appeal." © Academy of American Poets, 75 Maiden Lane, Suite 901, New York, NY 10038 "Hogs / hunted and penned in an inglorious spot" provides his image for being entrapped and led to the slaughter, and the repeated "n" sounds in the line replicate this sense of being huddled together and trapped. About this Poet McKay composed the poem in response to the outburst of racial violence in the summer of 1919, dubbed "The Red Summer" because of … If we must die, let it not be like hogs. If we must die—let it not be like hogs Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot, While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs, Making their mock at our accursed lot. While McKay does not give us any concrete details about the speaker, his allies, or their enemies—and indeed the poem contains little sensory language and, notably, no language relating to color—we can deduce that the speaker is almost certainly a man, speaking to men (or mostly men). 2 Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot, 3 While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs, 4 Making their mock at our accursèd lot. Claude McKay, who was born in Jamaica in 1889, wrote about social and political concerns from his perspective as a black man in the United States, as well as a variety of subjects ranging from his Jamaican homeland to romantic love.Used by permission of the Archives of Claude McKay (Carl Cowl, administrator).While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!And for their thousand blows deal one deathblow!So that our precious blood may not be shedWhat though before us lies the open grave? If we must die, O let us nobly die, So that our precious blood may not be shed. Lines 9 through 12 contain the speaker's rallying cry to his allies. One group of people might die at the hands of another group of people. As a powerful protest against racial injustice, the poem has resonated well beyond its original context, leading readers and critics to compare McKay to Marcus Garvey and other crucial figures of black history. 1 If we must die, let it not be like hogs. GradeSaver, What does “pressed to the wall ,dying but fighting back “ mean McKay's poem is a 14 line "Shakespearean sonnet," heavily end-stopped and broken up into three quatrains (4 line stanzas) and a final couplet. In fact, in a pointedly archaic bit of language, he deems it their "accursèd lot," and he suggests that dwelling on it will only bring them mockery.To develop his negative portrayal of a capitulating death, the speaker uses comparisons to two animals that reflect the two sides starkly divided in conflict: hogs and dogs.

“Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack,” McKay wrote, “Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!” In Black Poets of the United States, Jean Wagner noted that “If We Must Die” transcends specifics of race and is widely prized as an inspiration to persecuted people throughout the …

He holds clear-cut and traditional views about glory, honor, and masculinity, which in this quatrain he mobilizes to show his allies the kind of death they should Copyright © 1999 - 2020 GradeSaver LLC. 5 If we must die, O let us nobly die, 6 So that our precious blood may not be shed. GradeSaver "If We Must Die Study Guide". "If We Must Die" is a Shakespearean sonnet, using iambic pentameter and a rhyme scheme of abab, cdcd, efef, gg. Claude McKay, born Festus Claudius McKay in Sunny Ville, Jamaica in 1889, was a key figure in the Harlem Renaissance, a prominent literary movement of the 1920s.