A poem about oppression by Claude McKay

Authors. Writers. Books. Poems. Literature History.

Claude McKay’s “If We Must Die” was important when it first appeared in The Liberator in 1919 and I think it is still important today. It speaks of tyranny and dying a noble death in the face of a “murderous, cowardly pack.” Whether you are a social activist or a slave-wage worker—I think you can find something relatable in this remarkable poem.

“If We Must Die” by Claude McKay

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.
If we must die, O let us nobly die,
So that our precious blood may not be shed
In vain; then even the monsters we defy
Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!
O kinsmen! we must meet the common foe!
Though far outnumbered let us show us brave,
And for their thousand blows deal one deathblow!
What though before us lies the open grave?
Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!