Saturday, April 19, 2008

R.I.P. Aimé Césaire

Via Miami Herald: Aimé Césaire, an anti-colonialist poet and politician who was honored throughout the French-speaking world and was an early proponent of black pride, has died at 94. Césaire died Thursday at a Fort-de-France hospital where he was being treated for heart problems and other ailments, said government spokeswoman Marie Michèle Darsierès. He was one of the Caribbean's most celebrated cultural figures and was revered in his native Martinique, where his passing brought tears and spontaneous memorial observances.

(Care of
Aimé Césaire was born June 25, 1913, in Basse-Pointe, a small town on the northeast coast of Martinique in the French Caribbean. He attended the Lycée Schoelcher in Martinique, and the Parisian schools Ecole Normale Supérieure and the Lycée Louis-le-Grand.

His books of poetry include Aimé Césaire: The Collected Poetry (University of California Press, 1983); Putting in Fetters (1960); Lost Bodies (1950), with illustrations by Pablo Picasso; Decapitated Sun (1948); Miraculous Arms (1946); and Notebook of a Return to the Homeland (1939).

He is also a playwright, and has written Moi, Laminaire (1982); The Tempest (1968), based on Shakespeare's play; A Season at Congo (1966); and The Tragedy of King Cristophe (1963).

About his work, Jean-Paul Sarte wrote: "A Césaire poem explodes and whirls about itself like a rocket, suns burst forth whirling and exloding like new suns—it perpetually surpasses itself."

He is also the author of Discourse on Colonialism (1950), a book of essays which has become a classic text of French political literature and helped establish the literary and ideological movement Negritude, a term Césaire defined as "the simple recognition of the fact that one is black, the acceptance of this fact and of our destiny as blacks, of our history and culture."

As a student he and his friend, Léopold Senghor of Sénégal created L'Etudiant noir, a publication that brought together students of Africa and the West Indies. Later, with his wife, Suzanne Roussi, Césaire co-founded Tropiques, a journal dedicated to American black poetry. Both journals were a stronghold for the ideas of Negritude.

Césaire is a recipient of the International Nâzim Hikmet Poetry Award, the second winner in its history. He served as Mayor of Fort-de-France as a member of the Communist Party, and later quit the party to establish his Martinique Independent Revolution Party. He was deeply involved in the struggle for French West Indian rights and served as the deputy to the French National Assembly. He retired from politics in 1993.

A Selected Bibliography


Cahier d'un retour au pays natal (1939)
Armes miraculeuses (1946)
Aime Cesaire, The Collected Poetry, Clayton Eshleman (Translator), (University of California Press, 1983)
Notebook of a Return to the Native Land, Clayton Eshleman (Translator), (Wesleyan Poetry, 2001)


Discours sur le colonialisme (Paris: Présence Africaine, 1953)
Discourse on Colonialism (Monthly Review Press, 1972)

An excerpt from "Notebook of a Return to the Native Land"
by Aimé Césaire
Translated by Annette Smith and Clayton Eshleman

At the end of daybreak. . .

Beat it, I said to him, you cop, you lousy pig, beat it,
I detest the flunkies of order and the cockchafers of hope.
Beat it, evil grigri, you bedbug of a petty monk. Then I turned
toward paradises lost for him and his kin, calmer than the face
of a woman telling lies, and there, rocked by the flux of a
never exhausted thought I nourished the wind, I unlaced the
monsters and heard rise, from the other side of disaster, a
river of turtledoves and savanna clover which I carry forever
in my depths height-deep as the twentieth floor of the most
arrogant houses and as a guard against the putrefying force
of crepuscular surroundings, surveyed night and day by a cursed
venereal sun.

At the end of daybreak burgeoning with frail coves, the hungry
Antilles, the Antilles pitted with smallpox, the Antilles
dynamited by alcohol, stranded in the mud of this bay, in
the dust of this town sinisterly stranded.

At the end of daybreak, the extreme, deceptive desolate eschar
on the wound of the waters; the martyrs who do not bear witness;
the flowers of blood that fade and scatter in the empty wind
like the screeches of babbling parrots; an aged life mendaciously
smiling, its lips opened by vacated agonies; an aged poverty
rotting under the sun, silently; an aged silence bursting with
tepid pustules, the awful futility of our raison d'être.

At the end of daybreak, on this very fragile earth thickness
exceeded in a humiliating way by its grandiose future--the vol-
canoes will explode, the naked water will bear away the ripe
sun stains and nothing will be left but a tepid bubbling pecked
at by sea birds--the beach of dreams and the insane awakening.

At the end of daybreak, this town sprawled-flat, toppled from
its common sense, inert, winded under its geometric weight of
an eternally renewed cross, indocile to its fate, mute, vexed
no matter what, incapable of growing with the juice of this
earth, self-conscious, clipped, reduced, in breach of fauna
and flora.