African American Poetry (1870-1928): A Digital Anthology

Claude McKay, "The Barrier" (1919)

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 trembling throat;

I must not see upon your face
Love’s softly glowing spark;
For there’s the barrier of race,
You’re fair and I am dark.


First published in The Liberator, July 1919
Also published in Harlem Shadows1922

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