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Claude McKay's "I Shall Return"

Poetry became my passion after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class circa 1962.

Claude McKay - Autographed Photo

"For My good friend & Esteemed fellow craftsman James Weldon Johnson from Claude McKay - April 1937"

"For My good friend & Esteemed fellow craftsman James Weldon Johnson from Claude McKay - April 1937"

Introduction and Text of "I Shall Return"

The form of Claude McKay's "I Shall Return" is an English sonnet, (also known as Shakespearean or Elizabethan). The sonnet fits the English sonnet mold with three quatrains and couplet in the rime scheme, ABABCDCDEFEFGG.

Each line contains ten syllables and most lines move in a rhythmic iambic pentameter. Thematically, the speaker is dramatizing his intention, perhaps promise, to return to his native village. He muses about certain images that have remained fixed in his mind's eye.

(Please note: The spelling, "rhyme," was introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson through an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")

I Shall Return

I shall return again; I shall return
To laugh and love and watch with wonder-eyes
At golden noon the forest fires burn,
Wafting their blue-black smoke to sapphire skies.
I shall return to loiter by the streams
That bathe the brown blades of the bending grasses,
And realize once more my thousand dreams
Of waters rushing down the mountain passes.
I shall return to hear the fiddle and fife
Of village dances, dear delicious tunes
That stir the hidden depths of native life,
Stray melodies of dim remembered runes.
I shall return, I shall return again,
To ease my mind of long, long years of pain.

Musical Rendition of McKay's "I Shall Return"

Commentary

Claude McKay's speaker in his English sonnet, "I Shall Return," employs clusters of images that offer solace to a soul long steeped in sorrow.

First Quatrain: An Unlikely Insistence

I shall return again; I shall return
To laugh and love and watch with wonder-eyes
At golden noon the forest fires burn,
Wafting their blue-black smoke to sapphire skies.

The speaker begins by insisting, "I shall return again; I shall return." His insistence hints that, in fact, he probably will not return, but in his poem is free to return often; thus, the repetition of "I shall return" and the redundancy of "I shall return again."

Upon his return, the speaker will enjoy once more the occasion "[t]o laugh and love and watch with wonder-eyes." He will watch in this state of wonder at noon "the forest fires" that "burn / Wafting their blue-black smoke to sapphire skies."

While such a strange event prompting nostalgia may seem a bit odd, the collection of images offers a bold array of experience. Readers/listeners of the poem can see the flaming fire as it sends up its "blue-black smoke." They can hear the fizz and hiss as the fire flames. They can smell the smoke as it lifts to the "sapphire skies," a further image that the reader/listener can also see with the inner eye. That image cluster is so potent that the reader/listener is mesmerized into disregarding the possible damage brought on by the fire.

Second Quatrain: Experience of Dreams

I shall return to loiter by the streams
That bathe the brown blades of the bending grasses,
And realize once more my thousand dreams
Of waters rushing down the mountain passes.

The speaker next repeats his refrain, claiming, "I shall return." And this time, he is returning "to loiter by the streams." Interestingly, these streams "bathe the brown blades of the bending grasses," implying that the water is replenishing the foliage that was damaged by the "forest fire."

As the speaker "loiter[s] by the streams," he remembers that in his dreams so many times, he has experienced "waters rushing down the mountain passes." Again, the speaker unveils a cluster of images that capture the reader's imagination: the reader sees the water and hears it and possibly even smells it as it rushes over the burned blades of grass.

Third Quatrain: The Music of Soul Qualities

I shall return to hear the fiddle and fife
Of village dances, dear delicious tunes
That stir the hidden depths of native life,
Stray melodies of dim remembered runes.

The speaker employs his refrain once again, "I shall return," and now he takes his listener to the heart of his village where they will "hear the fiddle and fife," and watch as the "village dances." The melodies are "dear delicious tunes" that delight the speaker's heart, and the reader finds solace in them as well. The speaker avers that this music "stir[s] the hidden depths of native life." For him, the music carries soul qualities that infuse his inner being with joy that emanates from "stray melodies of dim remembered runes."

Couplet: Return for Solace

I shall return, I shall return again,
To ease my mind of long, long years of pain.

Finally, the speaker invokes for the last time his refrain and the redundant, "I shall return again," to put a final emphasis on his intention of returning to these images for solace, for he asserts his reason for this return, "[t]o ease my mind of long, long years of pain." A return to his native village to experience the sights, sounds, and smells offers a balm to his soul, whether he returns in fancy or reality.

Claude McKay

Questions & Answers

Question: What types of figurative language does this poem use?

Answer: Claude McKay's "I Shall Return" remains quite literal, employing only colorful visual imagery.

Question: What is the tone in the poem?

Answer: The tone in McKay's "I Shall Return" tends toward a nostalgic melancholy.

Question: What is the message in the poem?

Answer: The speaker is dramatizing his intention, perhaps promise, to return to his native village. He muses about certain images that have remained fixed in his mind's eye.

Question: What is the summary of this poem?

Answer: Claude McKay's speaker in his English sonnet, "I Shall Return," employs clusters of images that offer solace to a soul long steeped in sorrow.

Question: When was Claude McKay's "I Shall Return" written?

Answer: McKay's "I Shall Return" was written circa 1920.

Question: What images can be sensed in the poem "I Shall Return" by Claude McKay?

Answer: Readers/listeners of the poem can see the flaming fire as it sends up its "blue-black smoke." They can hear the fizz and hiss as the fire flames. They can smell the smoke as it lifts to the "sapphire skies," a further image that the reader/listener can also see with the inner eye.

Question: Who is the persona in McKay's "I Shall Return"?

Answer: The persona is the speaker, who dramatizes his intention, perhaps promise, to return to his native village, while musing about certain images that have remained fixed in his mind's eye.

Question: What type of poem is Claude McKay's "I Shall Return"?

Answer: Claude McKay's "I Shall Return" is an English sonnet, also known as Shakespearean or Elizabethan.

Question: What is the rime scheme?

Answer: In McKay's "I Shall Return," the rime scheme, ABABCDCDEFEFGG.

(Please note: The spelling, "rhyme," was introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson through an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error at https://owlcation.com/humanities/Rhyme-vs-Rime-An-... .”)

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes

Comments

Linda Sue Grimes (author) from U.S.A. on March 03, 2020:

Umesh, thank you for the kind words.

Claude McKay's career and interests offer an interesting trajectory. After developing an interest in Communism, he traveled to Russia, then France, where he became acquainted with novelist and social activist, Lewis Sinclair and American poet Edna St. Vincent Millay.

Fortunately, McKay lost his enthusiasm for Communism, after returning to the USA. He settled in Harlem and while retaining his interests in politics, he also developed an interest in religion and spirituality. He later converted to Catholicism, which no doubt had a profound influence on the remainder of his writing life.

Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on March 03, 2020:

Well explained and well illustrated. Nice reading. Thanks.

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