There is joy in the woods just now,
The leaves are whispers of song,
And the birds make mirth on the bough
And music the whole day long,
And God! to dwell in the town
In these springlike summer days,
On my brow an unfading frown
And hate in my heart always—
A machine out of gear, aye, tired,
Yet forced to go on—for I’m hired.
Just forced to go on through fear,
For every day I must eat
And find ugly clothes to wear,
And bad shoes to hurt my feet
And a shelter for work-drugged sleep!
A mere drudge! but what can one do?
A man that’s a man cannot weep!
Suicide? A quitter? Oh, no!
But a slave should never grow tired,
Whom the masters have kindly hired.
But oh! for the woods, the flowers
Of natural, sweet perfume,
The heartening, summer showers
And the smiling shrubs in bloom,
Dust-free, dew-tinted at morn,
The fresh and life-giving air,
The billowing waves of corn
And the birds’ notes rich and clear:—
For a man-machine toil-tired
May crave beauty too—though he’s hired.
Claude McKay, “Joy in the Woods” from Claude McKay: Complete Poems. Published by University of Illinois Press. Copyright © 2004 by Claude McKay. Courtesy of the Literary Representative for the Works of Claude McKay, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations.
Source: Claude McKay: Complete Poems
(University of Illinois Press, 2004)