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If We Must Die

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.

Line 1

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.

Lines 2-3

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.

Line 4

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.

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