November 1, 2019

A Poem to Read Aloud: McKay's 'Coming North'

Poems to Read Aloud , Resources , Public Speaking , The Buckley Experience

The Buckley School's founder believed all public speakers should fine tune their presentation skills by reading poetry out loud. We keep that worthwhile practice alive by including a poem in our magazine each month for you to read aloud. Pictured above, Harlem Renaissance poet Claude McKay in 1920, when he was around 30 years old.


The son of well-to-do farmers in Jamaica, Claude McKay wrote poems and songs as a young man and was encouraged to celebrate the language and rhythms of his Jamaican community.

He came the United States at age 23 to attend Tuskegee Institute. Arriving first in Charleston, S.C., he was shocked to see segregation and intense racism there, and it inspired him to start writing poetry again. He soon left the South, moving to Kansas then to New York City.

A leading figure of the Harlem Renaissance, McKay wrote poems and novels. He also traveled extensively throughout the world and was regarded as a celebrity in some of countries he visited. Winston Churchill quoted one of McKay’s poems in a speech during World War II. His novel Home to Harlem was widely read and honored.

Some of McKay's best-known poems reflect his anger toward racism. Others capture scenes from life in Harlem. The one we provide here looks back to his upbringing in Sunny Ville, Jamaica.


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.

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