The poem personifies the wind from the beginning, ensuring that readers understand that the speaker is thinking about an inhuman force with emotional language. They understand and appear to sympathize with the wind in ‘Subway Wind,’ conveying its desire to escape from the dark city tunnels and blow around the ocean.
Subway Wind Claude McKay Far down, down through the city’s great gaunt gut The gray train rushing bears the weary wind; In the packed cars the fans the crowd’s breath cut, Leaving the sick and heavy air behind. And pale-cheeked children seek the upper door To give their summer jackets to the breeze; Their laugh is swallowed in the deafening roar Of captive wind that moans for fields and seas; Seas cooling warm where native schooners drift Through sleepy waters, while gulls wheel and sweep, Waiting for windy waves the keels to lift Lightly among the islands of the deep; Islands of lofty palm trees blooming white That led their perfume to the tropic sea, Where fields lie idle in the dew-drenched night, And the Trades float above them fresh and free.
Explore Subway Wind
‘Subway Wind’ by Claude McKay is a beautiful and lyrical poem about a wind’s longing to escape a subway tunnel.
In the poem’s first lines, the speaker begins by noting that far down within the city, a wind is trapped. Its moaning drowns out the sounds of children laughing as it longs for an escape from the cityscape. It’s seeking a new world, one that’s filled with nature and freedom. The wind, the speaker says, is longing to blow along the seashore. It wants to drift schooners and move birds through the sky. The poem ends with a clear allusion to freedom, allowing the reader to connect the wind’s longing to any experience of their own.
You can read the full poem here.
Structure and Form
‘Subway Wind’ by Claude McKay is a sixteen-line poem that’s contained within a single stanza of text. The lines are written with a specific rhyme scheme. They follow the pattern of ABABCDCDEFEFGHGH. This alternating pattern of rhyme is quite common. It also allows the poem to maintain a steady pattern throughout its lines. McKay also chose to use iambic pentameter. This means that each line contains five sets of two beats, the first of which is unstressed the second of which is stressed.
Throughout this poem, the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Enjambment: can be seen when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines one and two as well as lines seven and eight.
- Alliteration: the repetition of the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “great gaunt gut” and “crowd’s” and “cut.”
- Caesura: occurs when the poet inserts a pause into the middle of a line. For example, “Through sleepy waters, while gulls wheel and sweep.”
- Imagery: can be seen when the poet uses especially interesting and memorable descriptions. For example, “The gray train rushing bears the weary wind.”
Far down, down through the city’s great gaunt gut
The gray train rushing bears the weary wind;
In the packed cars the fans the crowd’s breath cut,
Leaving the sick and heavy air behind.
And pale-cheeked children seek the upper door
To give their summer jackets to the breeze;
In the first lines of this poem, the speaker begins by setting the scene. He’s describing what it’s like to follow the city to the subway train tracks and look inside at the crowds. There, the “fans” cut their breath, and children climb towards the windows. The speaker focuses on that captive wind in the next lines. He suggests that it’s stuck within the train tunnels, unable to find its way out.
Their laugh is swallowed in the deafening roar
Of captive wind that moans for fields and seas;
Seas cooling warm where native schooners drift
Through sleepy waters, while gulls wheel and sweep,
Waiting for windy waves the keels to lift
Lightly among the islands of the deep;
The children laughing on the train have their sounds swallowed by the “moans” of the captive wind. It’s seeking “fields and seas” but is unable to get out of the tunnels. It’s longing for a different life, one it might’ve known before but can’t reclaim. Or one that it’s only dreamed of. There, “gulls wheel and sweep” and “schooners drift” in the open ocean.
These beautiful images are a stark contrast with the darker and far drearier images of the subway tunnel. It’s immediately clear why this personified wind would prefer one over the other.
Lines 13- 16
Islands of lofty palm trees blooming white
That led their perfume to the tropic sea,
Where fields lie idle in the dew-drenched night,
And the Trades float above them fresh and free.
In the final four lines of the sixteen-line poem, the speaker concludes with more images of the shore. The final image is one of freedom. It’s that above all else that the wind is seeking. And, it’s quite easy to relate this longing to the experience of any person who finds themselves stuck in one situation and dreaming of another. The industrial cityscape is a trap in this poem. It’s nature and the freedom it offers that is elevated above everything else.
The tone is descriptive and lyrical. The speaker is not the wind, but they are well aware of the way the wind feels. They know it’s seeking freedom in nature, and they use poetic language to demonstrate this.
The purpose is to describe the beauty of the natural world in comparison to the darkness and confinement of city life. The wind, as a person would, is looking to escape from the confines of the city to a utopia of sorts along the shore.
The themes at work in this poem include freedom and nature. The speaker relates these two to one another quite directly. It’s in nature that one finds freedom.
The speaker is someone who has likely experienced the same feelings as the wind and is creative enough to imagine them in relation to a personified force.
Readers who enjoyed ‘Subway Wind’ should also consider reading some other Claude McKay poems. For example:
- ‘America’ – balances ideas of loving and hating the United States. McKay explores the good parts of the country, the strength and vigor it contains as well as the bad.
- ‘I Know My Soul’ – a sonnet that discusses the importance of being honest with ourselves if we wish to find true peace.
- ‘If We Must Die’ – powerfully encourages the reader to stand up for and with the Black community. One should show strength in the face of discrimination, he says.