America - (2009)
medium voice and piano
Although she feeds me bread of bitterness,
And sinks into my throat her tiger's tooth,
Stealing my breath of life, I will confess
I love this cultured hell that tests my youth!
Her vigor flows like tides into my blood,
Giving me strength erect against her hate.
Her bigness sweeps my being like a flood.
Yet as a rebel fronts a king in state,
I stand within her walls with not a shred
Of terror, malice, not a word of jeer.
Darkly I gaze into the days ahead,
And see her might and granite wonders there,
Beneath the touch of Time's unerring hand,
Like priceless treasures sinking in the sand.
pages, circa 1' 55" ]
text is found in Harlem Shadows, The Poems of Claude McKay, New York:
Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1922. As McKay was a part of the reputed Harlem
Renaissance and a young socialist in a time when socialism had a fashionable
idealism rooted in freedom rather than mere government control, this text is
an interesting expression of passion for the nation's "vigor" and "bigness."
McKay finds strength in this, as did Martin Luther King four decades later.
That freedom was at one time the moving force behind black art and politics,
it is interesting to note that freedom has become lost in the shuffle of
modern politics in which political correctness has trampled McKay's
"strength," and perhaps becoming "priceless treasures sinking in the sand."
sense of "vigor" and "bigness" has become withered with the advent of James
H. Cone's reverse racism in the form of black liberation theology, in which
he advocated that "Black theology refuses to accept a God who is not
identified totally with the goals of the black community. If God is not for
us and against white people, then he is a murderer, and we had better kill
him." (Black Theology and Black Power, 1969)
is sadly amusing to note that this was among the reading list I was given in
a class at Immaculate Heart College by one of the nuns whose advocacy
basically helped tear apart that Catholic order and contributed greatly to
the closing of the college some years later. Reading it then, it seemed
outright foolishness, and revisiting it today in light of considering
McKay's greater vision of America it seems all the more foolish when one
considers the continuing divisiveness of the so-called "race dialogue" which
has become the antithesis of Dr. King's "I have a dream," one of those
"priceless [American] treasures sinking in the sand." The greatest of these
"priceless treasures" is freedom for all men, not for some, and this dream
becomes trampled by the advocacy of a covert form of class struggle as seen
through Marxism, as scholarly critics of black liberation theology have well
argued. I conclude that McKay's text from eighty years ago adequately
expresses this as well, foreshadowing as he gazed "darkly" into "the days
ahead," days filled with hundreds of millions of victims of National
Socialism, Soviet Socialism as well as the bankrupting of whole African
nations courtesy of this perversion of government which consistently
concludes with a privileged elite ruling class atop the socialist state at
the expense of the ordinary citizen.
he sought greater freedom not only for himself but for a people, McKay
openly and unabashedly says he loved our "cultured hell" for its vigor and
bigness -- as do I. My answer to Cone's inane and now dated stance comes in
the form of a short poem as well,
God Ain't White, just as my appreciation for McKay's art comes in
setting this text to music.
text is adapted into a short four verse form, AABA, by repeating a line at
the end and then beginning of the next verse. The syncopation within the 6/8
meter pushes the "bar line" forward rhythmically in an Americana style, and
"vigor" is represented by the shift between duple and triple gestures within
a given measure.
short coda for this piece repeats the line which speaks of the "vigor"
of America and then ends with the nation's name which is the title of
The score for
America is available as a free PDF download, though any major commercial
performance or recording of the work is prohibited without prior arrangement
with the composer. Click on the graphic below for this piano-vocal score.