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About this Poem 

“Adolescence” was published in McKay’s book Harlem Shadows (Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1922).

Adolescence

There was a time when in late afternoon
    The four-o’clocks would fold up at day’s close
Pink-white in prayer, and ’neath the floating moon
    I lay with them in calm and sweet repose.

And in the open spaces I could sleep,
    Half-naked to the shining worlds above;
Peace came with sleep and sleep was long and deep,
    Gained without effort, sweet like early love.

But now no balm—nor drug nor weed nor wine—
    Can bring true rest to cool my body’s fever,
Nor sweeten in my mouth the acid brine,
    That salts my choicest drink and will forever.

This poem is in the public domain. 

This poem is in the public domain. 

Claude McKay

Claude McKay

Claude McKay, who was born in Jamaica in 1889, wrote about social and political concerns from his perspective as a black man in the United States, as well as a variety of subjects ranging from his Jamaican homeland to romantic love.

by this poet

poem
I must not gaze at them although 
  Your eyes are dawning day; 
I must not watch you as you go 
  Your sun-illumined way; 

I hear but I must never heed 
  The fascinating note, 
Which, fluting like a river reed, 
  Comes from your trembing throat; 

I must not see upon your face 
  Love's softly glowing spark
poem
Your door is shut against my tightened face,
And I am sharp as steel with discontent;
But I possess the courage and the grace
To bear my anger proudly and unbent.
The pavement slabs burn loose beneath my feet,
And passion rends my vitals as I pass,
A chafing savage, down the decent street;
Where boldly shines
poem

Now the dead past seems vividly alive,
    And in this shining moment I can trace,
Down through the vista of the vanished years,
    Your faun-like form, your fond elusive face.

And suddenly some secret spring’s released,
    And unawares a riddle is revealed,
And I can read like