"Rev. of Harlem Shadows."

by Georgia  Douglas  Johnson

This sketch is not an attempt at authentic and prolonged criticism of Claude McKay's delightful "Harlem Shadows"—only a reaction, impulsive and personal.

Read "The Harlem Dancer":

Applauding youths laughed with young prostitutes And watched her perfect, half-clothed body sway; Her voice was like the sound of blended flutes Blown by black players upon a picnic day. She sang and danced on, gracefully and calm, The light gauze hanging loose about her form; To me she seemed a proudly-swaying palm Grown lovelier for passing through a storm. Upon her swarthy neck black shiny curls Luxuriant fell; and tossing coins in praise, The wine flushed, bold-eyed boys and even the girls, Devoured her shape with eager passionate gaze; But looking at her falsely-smiling face, I knew her self was not in that strange place. [source]

Unfadingly canvassed are the lines: "To me she seemed a proudly swaying palm," etc., and, "her voice was like the sound of blended flutes," one can hear the magic tones. This picture of the lovely Harlem Dancer is as vividly painted on my mind as is the Mona Liza.

Vital and living is "Harlem Shadows":

I hear the halting footsteps of a lass In Negro Harlem when the night lets fall Its veil. I see the shapes of girls who pass To bend and barter at desires call. Ah, little dark girls who in slippered feet Go prowling through the night from street to street! [source]

The flame-shod feet of "the little dark girls" pass over my heart and I feel that touch of anguish that was the author's own when he wrote these lines.

The prophecy in the last four lines of "America" is signfiicant:

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. [source]

It is the unmistakable writing on the wall, and yet what tender compassion pervades the author, who continues:

I stand within her walls with not a shred Of terror, malice, not a word of jeer. [source]


Johnson, Georgia Douglas. "Rev. of Harlem Shadows." The Messenger: (May, 1923). Text of this review from microfilm held by Syracuse University Libraries. In its original appearance this text used quotation marks for its quotations from poetry. These typographical marks produce problems for transforming this text, and therefore are not present in this encoding.


Harlem Shadows (1922)

Additional Poems by Claude McKay

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