Do You See?

Claude McKay: “Joy in the Woods”; Travel snippets

What have you read if you haven’t read Claude McKay?

To hell with flimsy frumpy soft feelings, I am deeply moved by the way McKay presents a harsh reality in these blithe stanzas.

Joy in the Woods


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)


Rains. Been raining on and off ever since I arrived in Hyderabad. The showers reminded me of Stirling. Did I write once, Scotland’s rain was sad in a beautiful way? In Hyderabad it is more of a steal and run, like a street urchin’s delight! In Stirling night used to slide over my cheeks: cool, moist. And I had to go away.

Going away is tougher when folks you meet just 2-3 times say they’ll miss you. While dropping me at the airport, my friendly cabman Mr. Alasdair’s son handsome young Fraser asked if I’d come back to teach.

I wished him luck with golf A team of the university. He’s in B team now, a good player. Fraser thought I can easily get a job in the UK. I told him I’d be happy indeed if I could get one. And see him and the others back again.

“If not this September, the next one perhaps?” I consoled myself.

“I’ll miss you!” He shook hands.

I must have imagined it, but his brown eyes did look a little low and sad. His voice sounded earnest. At least someone seemed like that and said what I’d like to hear just because I was determined to leave. Fraser — so young and uncluttered.


London to Delhi. Young man on window seat can’t hear me from aisle seat, although the center seat’s empty.

The airhostess briefs me: “He’s totally hearing impaired. Hence, can’t speak much. In case of an emergency, you’d have to guide him to the exit, slide and life-jacket.”

I’m numb with this responsibility.

Slowly, we get friendly. Try a video game; he guides me with the remote buttons with the expertise of a geek. He teaches me how to write our names on the screen. Laugh and make signs. And yet, I alert him about every announcement: turbulence, seat-belt on, shutter up.


Self-love photo clicking: since no one was taking my photo in Fort William-Mallaig. Bear with it!

In the Fort William B&B room, facing the wash basin mirror. When I’d checked in, the receptionist said: “Do you know we have a Saturday night disco?” 🙂


2 comments on “Claude McKay: “Joy in the Woods”; Travel snippets

  1. Mihir Vatsa
    June 27, 2012

    That was a wonderful poem! Loved it. =)

    Fun trip in whole, I presume, it had been?

  2. Do You See
    June 27, 2012

    McKay is delightful. And to think of it, his experience was all of segregation of the races and injustices associated with it. Look how lucid he is with the form.

    Fun trip, MV. Fun and fantastic. As if it wasn’t a trip, as if it was part of me. I left that part somewhere there.

    Hokay. What else?

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This entry was posted on June 27, 2012 by in Claude McKay, Fort William, Fraser's Cab, hyderabad, Joy in the Woods, Mallaig, Nabina Das, poetry.
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