Claude McKay

I Know My Soul by Claude Mckay

I Know My Soul by Claude Mckay is a sonnet which discusses the importance of being honest with ourselves if we wish to find true peace. I Know My Soul also discusses how we can never truly understand our desires, but the effort is necessary in order to attain happiness. Mckay uses imagery and metaphors to draw a vivid scene in the mind of the reader. Like his other poems, his words rhyme delicately and add an element of passion to his message. I Know My Soul advocates taking time out to challenge our fears regarding ourselves as opposed to constantly worrying about life problems which we have no control over because they are essentially under the control of God. Mckay discusses the human soul and emphasizes how one can only find peace if they understand who they are and more importantly if they can understand that there are certain mysteries on earth which may not be intelligible by human beings. You can read the full poem I Know My Soul here.

I Know My Soul by Claude Mckay


Form and Themes

I Know My Soul by Claude Mckay is written in the form of an Italian or Petrarchan Sonnet. It follows the rhyme scheme a-b-b-a-a-b-b-a-c-d-c-d-c as all Italian Sonnets do. Sonnets are generally used for expressive thought and that is essentially why Mckay chose a sonnet for this particular poem. I Know My Soul holds the themes of self-reflection, pondering, and God. The themes of the poem match the form of a sonnet well because of the personal nature of pondering and belief in God. Mckay has mentioned himself that he enjoys writing in the form of a sonnet because he feels it is the absolute best way he can express himself. The mood of the poem is hopeful and optimistic. When conducting self-assessment, it is essential that we remain hopeful and optimistic in order to find inner peace, and that is exactly what Mckay is delivering in his sonnet.


I Know My Soul Analysis

I plucked my soul out of its secret place,
And held it to the mirror of my eye,
To see it like a star against the sky,

I know My Soul is a sonnet expressed by an unidentified voice. The poem commences with a metaphor in which the voice states that they have plucked their soul out of a secret place and examined it in the mirror of their eye. This of course is not literal, but rather, it means that the voice forced themselves to examine their soul. What is the human soul? The human soul is the representation of our innermost desires. To examine one’s soul means to question all of our desires and specifically to question our intentions for every thought that crosses our mind. If one is able to understand their soul, then they are able to judge if they are good or bad people. The next two lines elaborate, once again, using metaphors to compare the soul to a star in the sky. This metaphor is most likely used to emphasize the exposure the soul is encountering. The soul is bright like a star, entirely visible to the naked eye. We generally keep our desires hidden within us, even from ourselves. When we question ourselves about our thoughts then it is almost like we are exposing ourselves.

A twitching body quivering in space,
A spark of passion shining on my face.
And I explored it to determine why

Mckay uses imagery to describe the soul as a quivering body. The use of the word quiver shows the reluctant nature we generally express towards examining our inner selves. We are all scared of who we really are and what our words and deeds have transformed our souls-our innermost desires- into. Mckay states that the voice is deeply passionate and despite the natural unwillingness to dig deep into ourselves and expose our flaws, the voice is determined to examine why their deepest desires keep calling them back to evil and sin. The entire purpose of this self-assessment is because the voice is distressed as to why their desires keep imploring towards wrong actions. I sit because they have a bad nature? God created desires, so why would he create evil desires?

This awful key to my infinity
Conspires to rob me of sweet joy and grace.
And if the sign may not be fully read,
If I can comprehend but not control,
I need not gloom my days with futile dread,
Because I see a part and not the whole.
Contemplating the strange, I’m comforted
By this narcotic thought: I know my soul.

The seventh line switches the entire theme and mood of the poem and brings to light the religious view behind this poem. The voice states that the soul is key to one’s infinity. This is most likely a direct reference to eternal life after death. Our soul represents our desires. If we harbor evil desires we are compelled to do evil and follow the wrong path in life. In doing so, our afterlife, the infinite life that will never end will be destroyed. However, if we have good desires we will do good deeds and ward off harmful temptations. This will lead to us enjoying ‘sweet joy and grace’ forever. The voice wonders why the soul is trying to rob them of enjoying in the afterlife, why do desires constantly entice towards doing evil. Another meaning can also be taken, instead of the voice worrying as to why their soul is attempting to rob them of a pleasant afterlife, the voice may be stating the soul is robbing them of joy and grace in a haunting sense. The voice can not seem to understand what it really desires, and this inability to understand is causes unrest. Once again this depicts examining one’s flaws and trying to come to terms with them so one can rectify themselves. ‘And if the sign can not be fully read’ shows us that the voice is admitting that the desires of the soul are infinite mysteries and they can never truly be understood by us human beings.

Pondering over the soul, desires, and sins leads the voice to realize that they may not be able to entirely understand what causes evil desires, but as long as they are trying to comprehend and rectify their actions they have nothing to fear. Some desires come to us naturally and they are beyond our control. Only God can see the entire picture, we can only try to comprehend and that is more than enough. Perhaps the reality of knowing one’s soul is understanding that we can never truly understand it. God created desires with his infinite knowledge, almost as if to test each and every one of us to see if we willingly choose to follow good or evil. To constantly fear why we have sinful desires is literally futile. What is important is the effort. This effort of examining ourselves is essential to making us become good people who follow the correct way of life. It is only through self-reflection that we can truly get in touch with our soul.

Claude Mckay chose to name the poem I Know My Soul, because the entire poem centers around a voice realizing what their soul is in actuality. In the poem, the soul is a symbol of our innermost desires that were given to us by God. Knowing our soul is in essence realizing that we can never truly understand where our desires are coming from, but as long as we keep evaluating ourselves we will remain on the path of goodness.

I Know My Soul by Claude Mckay is a self-reflective sonnet that encourages the reader to get in touch with themselves and with God. Mckay uses metaphors and imagery to illustrate the beautiful struggle we must endure to ensure our desires are those that please God and lead us to a happy eternal afterlife.

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Maha Rehman Poetry Expert
Maha has a BSc Honors from the University of Toronto and is an Author and Writer by profession. She loves writing and genuinely idealizes the idea of science and literary art combining together into a liberating force of intellectual enlightenment. You can check out her YA novel 'Sole Silence'.
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