Textual History

This poem also appears in The Messenger (December, 1919): [Δ] Claude McKay Birds of Prey The Messenger (December, 1919): II 11 23 . When it appeared in The Messenger, there was a break between the octet and the sestet, and even numbered lines were indented.


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Birds of Prey

  1. Their shadowshadowsΔ dimsdimΔ the sunshine of our day,Δ

  2. As they go lumbering across the sky,

  3. Squawking in joy of feeling safe on high,

  4. Beating their heavy wings of owlish gray.

  5. They scare the singing birds of earth away

  6. As, greed-impelled, they circle threateningly,

  7. Watching the toilers with malignant eye,Δ

  8. From their exclusive haven Birds of the darknessΔ   human Δbirds of prey.

  9. They swoop down for the spoil in certain upon us in mercilessΔ might,

  10. And TheyΔ fasten in our bleeding flesh their claws.Δ

  11. They beat us to surrender weak with fright, (We may be black or yellow, brown or white)Δ

  12. And ,Δ tugging and tearing without let restΔ or pause,

  13. They flap their hideous wings in grim with wildΔ delight,Δ

  14. And stuff our gory hearts into their maws.


Harlem Shadows (1922)

Additional Poems by Claude McKay

Contemporary Reviews

Supplementary Texts