Aimé Césaire

I was in a bookshop in Saint Germain, Paris and I begun to glance through Césaire’s Cahier du Retour au Pays Natal. I remember being mesmerized by the language. I quickly bought the brown covered text and rushed away to read it in one sitting. It was a very physical shock to hear this new rhythm, these strange words which had me grasping for my French dictionary. I made copious notes within the booklet and on my faithful Beaux Arts notebook I carried with me everywhere I went. Then I read it again and again. The sheer power, the anger, the beauty, the absolute validity of the moral stance against colonialism I espoused immediately. ‘Streets of Subservience’ soon after was my most inadequate response to Césaire’s greatness.


Later on, I studied Ethnography at Nanterre University (Paris) and read all the classics on Racism, Colonialism, etc… but nothing was ever as eloquent as this poetic masterpiece.


Below is a short unpunctuated poem by Césaire. I have always loved non punctuated writing. It has always seemed to me to be the language of desire. Picasso had intuitively stated that punctuation was a ‘cache sexe.’ Faulkner was a master, see the intensity of some of his passages in The Sound and the Fury. Joyce too. In the French language there is the extraordinary unpunctuated language of Philippe Sollers in his two volumes of Paradis and in passages of his previous experimental novels: Lois and H.  These texts are punctuated as much by the ear as the eye. Rhythmic punctuation.


This piece is called ‘Le Cristal Automatique’ from les Armes Miraculeuses, a pretty untranslatable piece although I have made an effort which sits underneath the original.

Allo allo encore une nuit pas la peine de chercher c’est moi l’homme des cavernes il y a les cigales qui étourdissent leur vie comme leur mort il y a aussi l’eau verte des lagunes même noyé je n’aurai jamais cette couleur là pour penser à toi j’ai déposé tous mes mots au mont-de-piété un fleuve de traineaux de baigneuses dans le courant de la journée blonde comme le pain et l’alcool de tes seins allo allo je voudrais être à l’envers clair de la terre le bout de tes seins a la couleur et le gout de cette terre là allo allo encore une nuit il y a la pluie et ses doigts de fossoyeur il y a la pluie qui met ses pieds dans le plat sur les toits la pluie a mangé le soleil avec des baguettes de chinois allo allo l’accroissement du cristal c’est toi…. c’est toi o absence dans le vent et baigneuse de lombric quand viendra l’aube c’est toi qui poindras tes yeux de rivière sur l’émail bougé des iles et dans ma tête c’est toi le maguey éblouissant d’un ressac d’aigles sous le banyan

Hello hello another night don’t bother looking it’s me the caveman there’s the grasshoppers whose lives are as deafeningly dizzy as their deaths then there’s the green water of the lagoon even if they drowned me I wouldn’t be that colour to think of you
I have pawned all my words at the mont-de-piété a river of sleds full of bathing beauties in the current of the day blond like the bread and wine of your breasts hello hello I’d like to be upside down on the light side of the earth the tip of your breasts look and taste like that earth hello hello another night it’s raining rain with its gravedigger fingers rain putting its feet in it again on the roofs the rain has eaten the sun with chinese chopsticks hello hello the magnifying crystal is you…. it’s you absent in the wind it’s you the earthworm bathing at dawn it’s you breaking with your streaming eyes on the blurry enamel of the islands and in my mind you are the dazzling manguey tree in the surf of eagles under the banian