Happy Birthday Una Marson!

Una Marson: 6 February 1905 – 6 May 1965

110 years ago Una Marson, Jamaican poet was born. Happy Birthday Una Marson!


Una Marson – “There Will Come A Time”

“Each race that breathes the air of God’s fair world
Is so bound up within its little self,
So jealous for material wealth and power
That it forgets to look outside itself
Save when there is some prospect of rich gain;
Forgetful yet that each and every race
Is brother unto his, and in the heart
Of every human being excepting none,
There lies the selfsame love, the selfsame fear,
The selfsame craving for the best that is,
False pride and petty prejudice prevail
Where love and brotherhood should have full sway.”

— Excerpt from, “There Will Come a Time” a poem by prolific Jamaican writer and activist Una Marson.

Source: Tumblr.

Una Marson – Poetry: “Politeness”

by Una Marson

They tell us

That our skin is black

But our hearts are white.

We tell them

That their skin is white

But their hearts are black.

Source: Tumblr.

Una Marson’s Poems


Following on from my previous post about Una Marson,try as I might, it is almost impossible to find any poems on the Internet by Una Marson. Some years ago, I came across a website which featured quite a few of her poems and I wish I’d made a note of some of them in order to show them here. Sadly I can only find excerpts from some poems, and I know this isn’t quite what I intended to do, but I think an excerpt from a poem is better than none at all!

God keep my soul from hating such mean souls,
God keep my soul from hating
Those who preach the Christ
And say with churlish smile
“This place is not for ‘Niggers’.”
God save their soul from this great sin
Of hurting human hearts that live
And think and feel in unison
With all humanity.

UNA MARSON, Title: Nigger

Source for poem: Tumblr.

Una Marson: 6 February 1905 – 6 May 1965

Una Marson

Una Marson was born and grew up in Jamaica. After her work on the editorial staff of the Jamaica Critic in 1926, she founded her own magazine The Cosmopolitan, which she also edited. Having established herself in Jamaica, Marson moved to London in 1932 to experience life outside Jamaica and to find a wider audience for her literary work. She lodged with Harold Arundel Moody, and became involved with the League of Coloured Peoples. She worked for the League as its unpaid Assistant Secretary, organising student activities, receptions, meetings, trips and concerts. During her stay in England from Marson continued to publish on feminist issues, as she had in Jamaica. She also became increasingly interested in discussions about race, eugenics and the colour-bar, focussing on the most pressing issues faced by black migrants living in Britain.

During her first stay in Britain, Marson organized, staged and compered an evening of entertainment at the Indian Students Hostel. The line-up included the American singer John Payne, the pianist Bruce Wendell and the Guyanese clarinettist Rudolph Dunbar. By 1937 she was editor of the League’s journal and its spokesperson, working closely with Moody. Marson was also a member of the International Alliance of Women for Equal Suffrage and Citizenship and the British Commonwealth League (BCL). At the latter she met Myra Steadman, daughter of the suffragette Myra Sadd Brown. The All India Women’s congress was affiliated with the BCL. During the period she also became involved with the Left Book Club and encountered the writings of Rabindranath Tagore.

After two years in Jamaica, Marson returned to Britain in 1938. In 1939 Marson was offered work by the BBC as a freelancer for the magazine programme ‘Picture Page’ to arrange interviews with visitors from the Empire. She also drafted three-minute scripts for the programme. After the outbreak of the Second World War, Marson lectured occasionally at the Imperial Institute and worked as a talks and script writer for the BBC. In 1941 she was appointed full-time programme assistant to the BBC Empire Service, where she hosted and coordinated the broadcasts under the title ‘Calling the West Indies’.

In November 1942 George Orwell asked her to contribute to the six-part poetry magazine ‘Voice’, broadcast on the Indian Section of the BBC’s Eastern Service, with Marson taking part in the fourth programme dedicated to American poetry, which also featured William Empson. She read her poem ‘Banjo Boy’. In the December edition of the programme she appeared alongside M. J. Tambimuttu, T. S. Eliot, Mulk Raj Anand, Narayana Menon and William Empson. This led Una to devise a similar programme for the West Indies, titled ‘Caribbean Voices’, which in later years under the direction of Henry Swanzy would introduce authors such as George Lamming, Sam Selvon, V. S. Naipaul and Edward Kamau Braithwaite to a wider audience. The programme ran for fifteen years until 1958. She returned to Jamaica in 1945 and died in 1965 from a heart attack.

My source:
Reference: ‘Una Marson’, Making Britain Database [http://www8.open.ac.uk/researchprojects/makingbritain/Una Marson, accessed 1 February 2015] Copyright Notice ©

A Memory of June by Claude McKay


“… body was a lute
Whereon my passion played his fevered song”.  Wow!  Amazing poetry!

A Memory of June

When June comes dancing o’er the death of May,
With scarlet roses tinting her green breast,
And mating thrushes ushering in her day,
And Earth on tiptoe for her golden guest,

I always see the evening when we met–
The first of June baptized in tender rain–
And walked home through the wide streets, gleaming wet,
Arms locked, our warm flesh pulsing with love’s pain.

I always see the cheerful little room,
And in the corner, fresh and white, the bed,
Sweet scented with a delicate perfume,
Wherein for one night only we were wed;

Where in the starlit stillness we lay mute,
And heard the whispering showers all night long,
And your brown burning body was a lute
Whereon my passion played his fevered song.

When June comes dancing o’er the death of May,
With scarlet roses staining her fair feet,
My soul takes leave of me to sing all day
A love so fugitive and so complete.

Spring in New Hampshire by Claude McKay

Spring in New Hampshire
Too green the springing April grass,
Too blue the silver-speckled sky,
For me to linger here, alas,
While happy winds go laughing by,
Wasting the golden hours indoors,
Washing windows and scrubbing floors.

Too wonderful the April night,
Too faintly sweet the first May flowers,
The stars too gloriously bright,
For me to spend the evening hours,
When fields are fresh and streams are leaping,
Wearied, exhausted, dully sleeping.


After the Winter by Claude McKay

I love this poem.  I want to live in that cottage beside the open glade and look at ferns that never fade!

After the Winter

Some day, when trees have shed their leaves
And against the morning’s white
The shivering birds beneath the eaves
Have sheltered for the night,

We’ll turn our faces southward, love,
Toward the summer isle
Where bamboos spire to shafted grove
And wide-mouthed orchids smile.

And we will seek the quiet hill
Where towers the cotton tree,
And leaps the laughing crystal rill,
And works the droning bee.
And we will build a cottage there
Beside an open glade,
With black-ribbed blue-bells blowing near,
And ferns that never fade.


Claude McKay

Claude McKay is a Jamaican poet I discovered quite by accident.  He was not someone I knew about and decided I would do further research on.  It was purely by chance that I came across him whilst I was researching black history on the Internet.  I was amazed by how little there is about Black poets in the public domain and this is the reason that I have started this blog.  I want to uncover these gems, open awareness and share my research with others who are interested.

Claude McKay

Claude McKay (1890-1948), Jamaican-born poet and novelist, is often called “the first voice of the Harlem renaissance.” His verse and fiction are best known for protesting the social evils that plagued blacks.

Claude McKay was born in Jamaica, British West Indies, on Sept. 15, 1890. He began writing poetry, principally in Jamaican dialect, while a schoolboy. After a brief apprenticeship to a cabinetmaker and a short time as a policeman, he went to the United States and enrolled at Tuskegee Institute; later he went to Kansas State University. Neither school suited him, so he moved to New York, where a little interest in his first two volumes of poems–Constab Ballads and Songs from Jamaica(published in England, 1912)–preceded him.

Under the name Eli Edwards, McKay published a number of poems in American magazines; under his own name he published (in England)Spring in New Hampshire (1920). He was listed as associate editor of theLiberator, a “radical” magazine, which was the first to print “If We Must Die.” This poem has come to be thought of as the birth cry of the “new Negro.” It set the tone of protest that marks his fourth and best-known volume of verse, Harlem Shadows (1922), which also contains poems on conventional romantic themes.

In 1922 McKay represented the American Workers party at the Third Internationale in Moscow. He stayed in Europe for several years, settling in southern France, where he wrote most of his fiction. Home to Harlem(1928), a sensational revelation of black ghetto life, is his best-known novel. Banjo (1929) does for the French seaport city of Marseilles what the first novel did for New York’s Harlem: it portrays life in the lower depths. Gingertown (1932) is a volume of unexceptional short stories, and Banana Bottom (1933), set in the West Indies, returns to his earlier subject matter. His fiction tended to be sensationally “realistic” and to emphasize those sordid elements in Negro life that attracted the prurient interest of the public.

Back in America in 1936 McKay wrote his autobiography, A Long Way from Home (1937). The fluent ease that characterized his best prose style is missing in this book. In 1940 he published Harlem: Negro Metropolis, a kind of sociohistorical narrative that is interesting but without much substance.

All but forgotten, McKay died in Chicago on May 22, 1948. Selected Poems of Claude McKay appeared in 1953.



Claude McKay from Encyclopedia of World Biography. ©2005-2006 Thomson Gale, a part of the Thomson Corporation. All rights reserved.


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