Textual History

This poem first appeared in The Liberator (July, 1919): [*] Claude McKay If We Must Die The Liberator (July, 1919): 21 under the title "Sonnets and Songs," which included "The Barrier" and "After the Winters" (later collected in Harlem Shadows) and "The Negro Dancers,", "A Capitalist at Dinner," "The Little Peoples," and "A Roman Holiday." That same issue also included a short biographical note on McKay.

It later appeared in:

In its appearances in The Liberator, The Crusader, and The Messenger, the poem is broken into two distinct linegroups, an octet and sestet. In The Messenger and The Crusader even numbered lines are indented.

When it appeared in The Messenger, the poem was included in an editorial (also titled "If We Must Die").


  • Editorial Notes ?
  • Highlight Variants ?

References to Poem ?


If We Must Die . 1

  1. If we must die, *let it not be like hogs

  2. Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,.

  3. While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,

  4. Making their mock at our accursèd accursed*Δ lot.

  5. If we must die, * O oh,*Δ let us nobly die,

  6. So that our precious blood may not be shed

  7. In vain; then even the monsters we defy

  8. Shall be constrained to honor us ,Δ though dead!

  9. O Oh,*Δ kinsmen! we We*Δ must meet the common foe!;*Δ

  10. Though far outnumbered ,Δ let us show us still be*Δ brave,.Δ

  11. And for their thousand blows deal one death-blow!

  12. What though before us lies the open grave?

  13. Like men we'll face the murderous, cowardly pack,

  14. Pressed to the wall, dying, but *Δfighting back!


Harlem Shadows (1922)

Additional Poems by Claude McKay

Contemporary Reviews

Supplementary Texts