poem index

sign up to receive a new poem-a-day in your inbox

About this poet

Aimé Césaire was born June 26, 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. Césaire died on April 17, 2008 in Martinique.


A Selected Bibliography

Poetry

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)

Prose

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

Notebook of a Return to the Native Land [excerpt]

Aimé Césaire, 1913 - 2008
   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 dyn-
amited 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 mendacious-
ly 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. 

Excerpted from "Notebook of a Return to the Native Land" by Aime Césaire, translated by Clayton Eshleman and Annette Smith. Copyright © 2001 by Aime Césaire. Used with permission by Wesleyan University Press. All rights reserved.

Excerpted from "Notebook of a Return to the Native Land" by Aime Césaire, translated by Clayton Eshleman and Annette Smith. Copyright © 2001 by Aime Césaire. Used with permission by Wesleyan University Press. All rights reserved.

Aimé Césaire

Aimé Césaire

Aimé Césaire was born June 25, 1913, in Basse-Pointe, a small town

by this poet

poem
A bit of light that descends the springhead of a gaze
twin shadow of the eyelash and the rainbow on a face
and round about
who goes there angelically
ambling
Woman the current weather
the current weather matters little to me
my life is always ahead of a hurricane
you are the morning that swoops down on the lamp