Like a Misunderstood Salvation and Other Poems

Like a Misunderstood Salvation and Other Poems


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Like a Misunderstood Salvation and Other Poems by Aime Cesaire

Annette Smith and Dominic Thomas’s new translations of Aimé Césaire’s Like a Misunderstood Salvation and Solar Throat Slashed (poems deleted) expose to a new audience a pivotal figure in twentieth-century French literature. This collection presents the early and last stages of a po­et’s course, encapsulating in one volume Césaire’s entire literary career and creative evolution as perhaps the only French poet writing simultaneously at the crossroads of the avant-garde and classical movements. 

This volume’s inclusion of previously deleted poems from Solar Throat Slashed is politically important; despite their initial exclusion from a French republication of Soleil Cou Coupé in 1961, these thirty-one poems are crucial to understanding Césaire’s legacy and remain of tremendous pertinence today as they provide helpful ways of thinking about and contextualizing discussions on race, identity, global identities, and the links between “black conscious­ness” and “social consciousness.”

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780810128965
Publisher: Northwestern University Press
Publication date: 05/31/2013
Pages: 112
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.40(d)

About the Author

Aimé Césaire (1913–2008) was a poet and politician from the French Carib­bean island of Martinique. A teacher of Frantz Fanon, he was one of the founders of the négritude movement.

Annette Smith is a professor of literature emerita at CalTech.

Dominic Thomas is a professor of French and francophone studies and of comparative literature at UCLA.

Read an Excerpt

Like a Misunderstood Salvation and Other Poems

By AIMÉ CÉSAIRE, Annette Smith, Dominic Thomas

Northwestern University Press

Copyright © 2013 AIMÉ CÉSAIRE
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8101-2896-5


Lynch 1

Why does the spring grab me by the throat? what does it want from me? even if it were short of spears and flags! I boo you spring for displaying your one blind eye and your foul breath. Your stupration your vile embraces. With patches of jungle (fanfare of advancing saps) your peacock tail fans out turning tables but my liver is more acid and my venefice stronger than your maleficence. Lynch is six o'clock in the evening in the oozing bayous it is a black kerchief waved atop the mast of a pirate ship it is the point at which the nail is strangulated by a carmine insertion it is the pampa it is the queen's ballet it is scientific sagacity it is the unforgettable coit. O lynch salt mercury and antimony! Lynch is the blue smile of a dragon at war with angels lynch is an orchid too beautiful to bear fruit lynch is a mere preamble lynch is the wind's hand slaughtering a forest whose trees are gallnuts brandishing the raw flame of their castrated phalluses, lynch is a hand dusted with the powder of precious stones, lynch is a release of hummingbirds, lynch is a lapsus, lynch is a trumpet call a gramophone's cracked record a cyclone's tail whose train is carried by pink-beaked rapacious birds. Lynch is a lush chevelure which fear brushes back over my face lynch is a temple destroyed by roots and girthed by the virgin forest. O lynch lovable companion beautiful spurted eye wide opened mouth mute save when a branle fills it with delirious snot, on your loom, lightning, weave to perfection a continent bursting into islands an oracle sliding into centipedal contortion a moon that posts in the breach the sulfur butterfly rising in the scanty loophole of my murdered hearing.


    The mollusks' shield
    the ants' mandibles
    the full display of mimesis eclipsing the masks of
    phasms and pharaohs
    the dialectic of copper
    Aldebaran the early riser
    could it be that an ill-cast leaf
    scattered by the wind
    calls head or tails with life and death
    go turtle turned onto its back by the sand's perfidious hand
    iconoclastic clast thunder of the nameless no
    buck and belfry
    date chosen for all great spring offensives
    I've eaten my prey
    and my eyes have grown like yams from an unworked field
    my eyes are harder than stone
    my eyes have crucified stoned flogged my brain
    my brain
    comes and goes
    in a white smock of logarithms
    and since we are on the subject of mental economy
    hear this devourer
    space and time amicable serpents pincher against pincher fornicate too
    well to exhaust their venom vesicle spawning magnificent umbels and
    mushrooms in a face voluble with silence and echo
    the distribution of the heat intensifies in collective ratio along the rod I
    heat up and fecundate with the frantic sap of my breathing


After I had visited the most famous sites of history by iron by fire by cinder after I had by cinder by fire by the earth and the stars wooed to the exacting protoplasms field with my wild dog and leech claws just as was customary in the old days I found myself in the midst of a factory of viper knots in a ganges of cacti in an elaboration of pilgrimage prickles—and as in the old days I was slabbered by cocks and tongues born a thousand years before the earth—and as in the old days I said my morning prayer the one that protects me from the evil eye and that I address to the rain under the Aztec color of its name

Rain that so gently cleanses the earth's dusty vagina with a perverse injection All-powerful rain that slits fingers of rock from the chopping block Rain that sates an army of worms better than would a forest of mulberry trees Rain genial strategist that pushes onto the air's window your army of innumerable zigzagging ramparts guaranteed to surprise the best-guarded boredom Rain wasp nest fine milk for the piglets we are Rain I see your meshes are a continuous explosion of fireworks of crackling hurrahs your hair of false news immediately denied Rain that in your most reprehensible outbursts would not forget that the Chiriquí maidens suddenly pull out of their night-woven bodices a lantern made of tantalizing fireflies Inflexible rain that lays eggs whose larvae are so proud nothing can force them to pass aft of the sun and salute it in the fashion of an admiral Rain that is a display of fresh fish behind which the courtly races hide out watching the filthy-footed victory go by I salute you rain queen in the depth of the eternal many-handed goddess whose destiny is unique you sperm you brain you fluid Rain capable of anything except washing away the blood running on the fingers of those peoples' assassins caught under the high timbers of innocence

Secret Society

From the lagoon a smell of blood rises along with an army of flies spreading among women the news of fraudulent menopausal treasures the crime's headquarters settled quite comfortably on the route of history whose epilepsy has never been so pronounced than nowadays when each inscription becomes an adventure each one of its letters blowing up like a pack of cartridges a kindred dust leads to weeks that are the sliding grooves of a guillotine in front of which the public prosecutor mounts guard in any case the body's rise and fall indicate all along the phase reached by the always difficult digestion of geological avatars we have no use for moles who swelled up the earth in a seasonal outbreak of rebellion we have no use for the sun it is a raped girl afraid to go home in its place a counter rain of sand and mud whose offensive over the cities imitates the perfect chaos of polarized light bands such as it may be in spite of the almond-colored antelopes gathering after a long run in the dawn of palm trees formed by tears along beloved necks and never to be dispersed by the sagacious hand of words of solace

(no more than a superstition would ever cleave the fine tree of idolatrous hearts promised to the axe regardless of the blood staining the executioner's blocks and throwing the premature flower bouquet of a scalp across its mask)

north wind and cutlasses of stars with the convex satellites let us exchange the little beneficial salute we exchange with the snow bunting sunlit only for us down from the delicate dormer windows out of which under a laconic sky the antidote usually launches the train of lifeguards rushed as I please to the bottom of the rocky mule track of an unmarked catastrophe

Night Crossing

Daring is what will least likely comfort us here is the animal alloy of muscle and voice in the day's rainy report under the plus sign flown over by a squadron of petrels Thanks to the farmers who regale me with hatred painted on their faces the days settle only on the shoulders of women well beyond sleep Storm or rain the beaks that delivered me to the mercy of the scream will take them to a proper ending

Covered with fresh brain I already rise much faster silence like the bull under the hammer it is a kiss gathering lips from the print of our hooves


A tree pushes its wrangle of contorted pipe against a wall in the absence of any objective reference cataracts have hung from the windows the linen sanitary women stain during their menses so that nothing becomes more personal than the pillage of time only the prostitutes' tawed necks still give an idea of eternity I explain in vain I am not at fault they leave me to myself forbidden is what a storm forever announced forever postponed yells out at me incessantly feeding all the nightmarish ups and downs to our crowds' unconscious Fortunately no one noticed I had noticed that I have hands to keep me company I have my ape's tail hands I have booby trap hands I have murderer's hands I have sleepwalker's hands and at times when the lapsed remorse arisen from Atlantis throbs in my pulse I have seashell hands I also have guano hands so beautiful people call them Sierra Nevadas I have my pigeon-vole hands I have bell diver's hands I also have hands to rock to sleep the small children who come to me for my smartest trick consists in trying to stop myself I have the hands of a righteous man prevented by mildew from ever reaching maturity my incendiary hands my bicolor hands my prickly heat hands my hand generally speaking ordinary my pearl divers' hands that are used to the depth For rainy days I have my strange sea lions' hands I will not describe as that would be sacrilegious On holidays I have those sumptuous hands the ancient emperor wore in Cuzco to welcome the sun I have mirror hands meant to set my hands on fire to serve as scarecrow for the solstice birds

    Dwelling 1

    Fuck you jailer
    fever the poniard of razzias in its teeth
    fever the language of torrents in its teeth
    fever thoroughbred gentle hawk
    precedes me in its palanquin
    Dwelling made of defeats
    dwelling made of live steerage
    dwelling made of passionflower
    dwelling a hundred times made and unmade
    dwelling made of shark teeth
    ha hallowed dwelling made of god's thunder and lightning
    of the secret saps asleep in great ceibas
    the scream that curses no longer hangs over me
    the shackle pain hindering our shanks
    the collar pain heavy on our shoulders
    all that has dissipated stripped like this ear of grain
    dissipated the way the cove fastens the fair weather light
    to the boisterous bowl of the sea
    stripped like you Volcano which from atop your crime rushes into suicide
    to join your accomplices to be born pensive and patient porpoises
    in the depth of the sea

The Sun's Stab in the Back of Unsuspecting Cities

And I saw a first beast it had a crocodile's body horsy legs a dog's head but upon a closer look rather than buboes those were scars left by storms at different times on a body long tested by obscure ordeals its head as I said was that of those mangy dogs one sees roaming around volcanoes in cities that men haven't dared rebuild eternally haunted by the souls of the departed and I saw a second beast it was lying under the branches of a dragon tree on both sides of his fawn's muzzle two rostra inflamed in their pulp stretched out like mustaches I saw a third beast which was a worm except that a strange will propelled it into a narrow length and it stretched out on the ground constantly losing and growing again annuli one would never have imagined it strong enough to carry and which swiftly passed life to one another like a most obscene password

Then my words spread out in a clearing of rudimentary eyelids, velvet on which the fastest shooting stars suckle their jennies

the splattered colors shifted delivered by the veins of a nocturnal ogress O the house built on rock the woman frigid in bed the catastrophe lost like a needle in a haystack a rain of onyx and broken seals fell on a monticule that no priest from any religion had ever named and whose effect can only be compared to a star's flogging of a planet's rump to the left forsaking the stars arranging the design of their numbers the clouds anchoring their reefs in a nonexistent sea the black heart snuggled in the heart of the storm we swooped down over tomorrow our pockets full of the sun's most violent stab in the back of unsuspecting cities

While in the Heat Naked Monks Come Down from the Himalayas

Formidable match the mosquitoes' grapeshot spiraling up from the coastal fens good manners feigned by the swarthy-pawed brutishness of the wild boars' lairs

Formidable match the great rivers which for the vermin split their thighs open most obscene blue lips spurting a vagina's lewd cackle

Formidable match the pollens' mushy faces crashing in the conspiring wind and under the tunnel formed by big cats' shoulders the chimney spewing jewels of eyes more tender than the grain that grows around them

Formidable monster against monster yours whose body is a statue made of redwood sap whose spittle is a chick's piss mine whose sweat is a bile jet from a caiman

like a night raining the howls of alouattas may I eject them at last from my so tender agaric's chest

Indecent Behavior

Harsh night starless thrash night. I don't get along with space. Doesn't matter. Night filthy rag mad tree I don't get along with Time. Does it matter? Farther than the mirror farther than the life relived in an accident when it rushes back at great speed farther than forgotten cities farther than rituals with lost meaning farther even than the ostrich carrying away the letters I pretend not to write farther than my little horse I jealously hide for it has left all breeds behind farther than the gold coins a cerebral sun spills thinking of slums farther than the long white gloves donned by the summits to welcome the wind your eyes, Monster, plunge them into a well-founded abyss fed from a monsters' breeding pond I don't get along with space don't get along with Time. Doesn't matter. Through the voyage haunted by high fumigations of flogging on a pavement made of little wrecks pushing through villages where allerions vegetate enshrined like saints in the beautiful postures of malaria tottering—at his belt a clinking of keys which among doors open only that of the pythons corridor the same one mind you leading to the bad weather invariably coming from the Atlantic—a beggar rings the bell on the street which from indifference it seems encircles the night's massive energy with rock salt while the compact masses of pirate icebergs tend towards Ostend


Easy extension of deglutition by the gigantic obscene mouth of a brown-belly marsh in a contented gunk gooey droseras listening in their lips to what fraternal news their days are indispensable on this world entangled in too many smokes from breaths that mask the storm's peppery spirit

Lean lean over the abyss over the vertigo lean lean over the void lean lean over the fire

But even high in the sky I find a thousand sharpened knives a thousand lasso hooks a thousand clerical crows

howl strike the rock as for the earth I people it with fish let flags be hoisted on factories ring your cohort ring your renewed blaze ring your silver canopy ring the array and the disarray ring your lightning rod breakers ring your onyx hooves ring your spidery horizon ring your cassolettes ring your small glasses twisted by the disaster ring your moans ring your grenade splinters Along the meridians I support the muffled progress of the opulent pilgrims rabid forests have turned into commotion Greenland disdainful hyenas that sniffat me I am not in the desert! the air stops I hear the squeaking of the poles around their axle the air rustles I watch helplessly my mind going feral the air brings me the Zambezi The many-boned bamboos resemble the skeleton of a huge fish from geological eras planted as a totem by an extinct tribe.


Goddamn it they have secured the universe and everything weighs—everything—the gravity's plumb line having settled on the facile foundation of solidity—the uranium veins the gardens' statues perverse amours the street that only feigns being fluid not to mention the river with its pace more sluggish than my feet no exception for the sun which stopped its clouds now forever fixed. "Ten-shun!" it is by the way the order that resounds constantly from one end to the other of this strange army of despair. The world becomes fixed. The stone is fixed. The universal false move is fixed and tell me about your crazy girl manners encircled by the world that encircles a river in which each human couple is ordered to dip twice and whence moreover the bona fide bovine of debacle with its ranch of crosiers and roots will never emerge. I am a stone covered with ruins. I am an island hooded with guano. I am a pyramid erected by an immemorially disappeared dynasty an elephant herd a mosquito sting a small town aggrandized by crime unless it be by the Pacific War or the Atlantic Charter. There are people claiming that they could rebuild a man from his mere smile. That is why I make sure not to leave my teeth impressions on the putty of the air. Face of man you will not budge you are caught in the ferocious graphs of my wrinkles.

Excerpted from Like a Misunderstood Salvation and Other Poems by AIMÉ CÉSAIRE, Annette Smith, Dominic Thomas. Copyright © 2013 AIMÉ CÉSAIRE. Excerpted by permission of Northwestern University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Introduction ix

Selected Bibliography xxxi

Solar Throat Slashed (poems deleted)

Lynch 1 5

Devourer 6

Rain 7

Secret Society 8

Night Crossing 9

Transmutation 10

Dwelling 1 11

The Suns Stab in the Back of Unsuspecting Cities 12

While in the Heat Naked Monks Come Down from the Himalayas 13

Indecent Behavior 14

Laissez-Passer 15

Solid 16

Femme and Flame 17

Compliments of History 18

A Few Miles from the Surface 19

Scalp 20

Apotheosis 21

Undoing and Redoing the Sun 22

To the Serpent 24

Torture 26

Pennon 27

Refinement of a Mummy 28

Idyll 29

Password 32

The Shape of Things 33

Preliminary Question 34

Tattooing Eyes 35

Forfeit 36

To the Night 38

Antipodal Dwelling 40

Fresh Out of a Metamorphosis 42

Like a Misunderstood Salvation

Obsidian Stele for Alioune Diop 45

Passage 46

References 47

Supreme Mask 48

The Virtue of Fireflies 49

Rumination 50

Time to Speak 51

Course 53

Dyali 54

Rapacious Space 56

Phantasms 57

Laughable 58

Craters 59

Conventicles 60

Islands Speak 61

Like a Misunderstood Salvation 62

Ruminatings of Calderas 63

Through 64

The Sleeping Woman Rock, or Beautiful Like the Exasperation of the Secession 65

Favor from the Trade Winds (prose for the Sun) 66

For a Fiftieth Anniversary 67

Configurations 68

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