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Archive for the ‘Senegal’ Category

I was to write this long discussion on one of Africa’s many ailments when I decided that it was about time someone wrote something hopeful for a change. Why go into a long diatribe on how miserable life is, when one can post a beautiful poem which might touch on some of those diatribes but does it in such an anonymous manner? So this will be the start of a once-in-a-blue moon post on African poetry, and whenever such is the case, there will be a link to the poet’s website (and/or infomation) if available.

Anywho moving on, today’s poet is Léopold Sédar Senghor (1906-2001), Senegal’s first president, world-renowned poet, cultural theorist, and philosopher. I mean this was the man who coined the concept of ‘Negritude‘ which was defined as the literary and artistic expression of black African culture. In historical context the term has been seen as an ideological reaction against French colonialism and a defence of African culture (so frigging what, right?) Anyways, it has influenced the strengthening of African identity especially in the French-speaking black world. I mean he did coin the phrase:

“L’èmotion est nègre, la raision est héllène.” (emotion is Negro, reason is Greek)

But let me get back on track – I’m not here to expound the man’s many theories on life and identity (btw, if any of you ever get a chance, you should look into them – he was brilliant) – but to post a very beautiful poem of his, so without further ado, here is…

Nuit de Siné

Femme, pose sur mon front tes mains balsamiques, tes mains douces plus que fourrure.
Là-haut les palmes balancées qui bruissent dans la haute brise nocturne
À peine. Pas même la chanson de nourrice.
Qu’il nous berce, le silence rythmé.
Écoutons son chant, écoutons battre notre sang sombre, écoutons
Battre le pouls profond de l’Afrique dans la brume des villages perdus.

Voici que décline la lune lasse vers son lit de mer étale
Voici que s’assoupissent les éclats de rire, que les conteurs eux-mêmes
Dodelinent de la tête comme l’enfant sur le dos de sa mère
Voici que les pieds des danseurs s’alourdissent, que s’alourdit la langue des choeurs alternés.

C’est l’heure des étoiles et de la Nuit qui songe
S’accoude à cette colline de nuages, drapée dans son long pagne de lait.
Les toits des cases luisent tendrement. Que disent-ils, si confidentiels, aux étoiles ?
Dedans, le foyer s’éteint dans l’intimité d’odeurs âcres et douces.

Femme, allume la lampe au beurre clair, que causent autour les Ancêtres comme les parents, les enfants au lit.
Écoutons la voix des Anciens d’Elissa. Comme nous exilés
Ils n’ont pas voulu mourir, que se perdît par les sables leur torrent séminal.
Que j’écoute, dans la case enfumée que visite un reflet d’âmes propices
Ma tête sur ton sein chaud comme un dang au sortir du feu et fumant
Que je respire l’odeur de nos Morts, que je recueille et redise leur voix vivante, que j’apprenne à
Vivre avant de descendre, au-delà du plongeur, dans les hautes profondeurs du sommeil.

(Léopold Sédar Senghor -De: Chants d’ombre (1945) , © Editions du Seuil, Paris)

Night of Sine

Woman, put on my forehead your balsam hands, your hands softer than fur.
Up there, the tall palm trees swinging in the night breeze rustle
hardly. Not even the nurse’s song.
Let the rhythmic silence rock us.
Let’s listen to its song, let’s listen to the beating of our dark blood, let’s listen
To the beating-of the dark pulse of Africa in the mist of lost villages.

Look how the tired moon sinks towards its bed of slack water,
Look how the burst of laughter doze off, and even the bards themselves
Dandle their heads like children on the backs of their mother.
Look how the feet of the dancers grow heavy, as well as the tongue of the alternating chorus.

This is the hour of the stars and of the Night that dreams
Reclining on that range of clouds, draped in its long gown of milk.
The roofs of the huts gleam gently. What are they so confidently telling to the stars?
Inside, the hearth extinguishes in the intimacy of bitter and sweet scents.

Woman, light the lamp of butterclear oil, let the Ancesters, like their parents, talk the children in bed.
Let’s listen to the voice of the Ancients of Elissa. Exiled as we are
They did not want to die, their seminal flood is lost in the sand.
Let me hear, in the smoky which I visit, a reflection of propitious souls
Let my head on your breast, warm as a dang taken from the fire and smoking
Let me inhale the smell of our Dead, let me collect and repeat their living voice, let me learn
To live before I sink, deeper than the diver, into the lofty depth of sleep.

(Tr. by Germain Droogenbroodt)

**As Senghor defined it, “Negritude is the totality of the cultural values of the Black world.”

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