America – a poem to read at the piano

The day after the 2016 election a friend of mine posted this sonnet to Facebook, and it really helped me:

America
by Claude McKay

Although she feeds me bread of bitterness,
And sinks into my throat her tiger’s tooth,
Stealing my breath of life, I will confess
I love this cultured hell that tests my youth.
Her vigor flows like tides into my blood,
Giving me strength erect against her hate,
Her bigness sweeps my being like a flood.
Yet, as a rebel fronts a king in state,
I stand within her walls with not a shred
Of terror, malice, not a word of jeer.
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.

It’s something I knew I was going to want to come back to, and read when I needed it. So I wrote a setting of it for Symphony Number One, a great organization in Baltimore that’s premiering the septet version on August 23 in Mt Vernon Place Park at 7 PM.

But I wanted to make sure to publish a solo piano version, too. Reading poetry is a powerful experience; it can help you to center yourself. This solo piano version can be performed, but it can also be played privately. The notes are meant to be an extension of the poem, to help spend more time in the words and deepen their meaning.

I know poetry helps me; I hope this piece can help you, too. This is a piece designed to help people, so it’s pay-what-you-want. You can download the score here, or buy it below:

Leave a Reply