If We Must Die
by Claude McKay
Lines 1-4 Summary
Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
If we must die, let it not be like hogs
- We, the readers, have no idea what is going on, but we can squeeze out some info from the first line.
- There is a "we," and apparently "we" are in a whole mess of trouble.
- To put it plainly: "we" are going to die.
- They must die. No choice about it; no question about it.
- So, as these people are "knock, knock, knockin' on heaven's door," they only have control over how they are going to die.
- The speaker pleads with his listeners to die with dignity. Supposedly hogs (a.k.a. castrated, male pigs) do not die well.
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,
- The speaker extends the hog metaphor from line 1.
- He and his allies are like hogs trapped and cornered. The attackers are compared to crazy and starving dogs.
- The dogs/attackers have not attacked yet. Instead, the dogs harass their prey and delay the moment of attack.
Making their mock at our accursed lot.
- The attackers harass in a humiliating way, almost celebrating their dominance over their victims. ("Mocking" is making fun of someone, except there is no fun in mocking.)
- The mocking is vicious and hurtful. It is meant to take all the power out of the victims.
- "Accursed" is an old school way of saying "cursed."
- "Lot" is luck. It can be good or bad luck – bad luck in this case – and it usually is associated with luck coming from a divine source or fate.