Claude McKay: “The Tropics in New York”

To One Coming North


At first you’ll joy to see the playful snow,

Like white moths trembling on the tropic air,

Or waters of the hills that softly flow

Gracefully falling down a shining stair.

And when the fields and streets are covered white

And the wind-worried void is chilly, raw,

Or underneath a spell of heat and light

The cheerless frozen spots begin to thaw,

Like me you’ll long for home, where birds’ glad song

Means flowering lanes and leas and spaces dry,

And tender thoughts and feelings fine and strong,

Beneath a vivid silver-flecked blue sky.

But oh! more than the changeless southern isles,

When Spring has shed upon the earth her charm,

You’ll love the Northland wreathed in golden smiles

By the miraculous sun turned glad and warm.




The Tropics in New York


Bananas ripe and green, and ginger root,

Cocoa in pods and alligator pears,

And tangerines and mangoes and grape fruit,

Fit for the highest prize at parish fairs,

Set in the window, bringing memories

Of fruit-trees laden by low-singing rills,

And dewy dawns, and mystical blue skies

In benediction over nun-like hills.

My eyes grew dim, and I could no more gaze;

A wave of longing through my body swept,

And, hungry for the old, familiar ways,

I turned aside and bowed my head and wept.




To Winter


Stay, season of calm love and soulful snows!

There is a subtle sweetness in the sun,

The ripples on the stream’s breast gaily run,

The wind more boisterously by me blows,

And each succeeding day now longer grows.

The birds a gladder music have begun,

The squirrel, full of mischief and of fun,

From maples’ topmost branch the brown twig throws.

I read these pregnant signs, know what they mean:

I know that thou art making ready to go.

Oh stay! I fled a land where fields are green

Always, and palms wave gently to and fro,

And winds are balmy, blue brooks ever sheen,

To ease my heart of its impassioned woe.



Claude McKay (1889-1948) was born in Clarendon parish,

Jamaica.  His older brother tutored him – with a bookshelf

of “classics”.  In 1912 McKay published his first book of poetry,

“Songs of Jamaica”, written entirely in Jamaican Patois.

He travelled to the USA where he would become a seminal

influence on the Black cultural movement known as The Harlem

Renaissance of the 1920s.   Appalled by the blunt racism he

encountered in his adopted country he articulated Black hope

and rage.  He wrote also of the complex feelings of the Immigrant

experience – as evidenced by his three tender, passionate

“Winter” poems from 1922 – featured above.