Ode to Guinea

by Aimé Césaire

And by the sun installing a power and eagle factory under my skin
and by the wind elaborating the passes it knows best over my power of tooth of salt
and by the black rising along my muscles in sweet sap-like effronteries
and by the woman stretched out like a mountain unsealed and sucked by lianas
the woman with the little known cadastre where day and night play mora for springhead waters and
rare metals
and by the fire of the woman in which I look for the path to ferns and to Fouta Jallon
and by the closed woman opening on nostalgia


Guinea whose rains from the curdled height of volcanoes shatter a sacrifice of cows for a thousand
hungers and thirsts of denatured children
Guinea from your cry from your hand from your patience
we still have some arbitrary lands
and when they have me, killed in Ophir perhaps and silenced for good,
out of my teeth out of my skin let the make
a fetish a ferocious guardian against the evil eye
as your solstice shakes me strikes me and devours me
at each one of your steps Guinea
silenced in myself with the astral depth of medusas

from The Collected Poetry of Aimé Césaire, translater by Clayton Eshleman and Annette Smith.

Aimé Césaire, the prominent Martinique poet and anticolonialist politician, died on April 18, 2008 at the age of 94.

Simon Gikandi writes:

Initially I was tempted to pick Césaire’s “elegy” as an appropriate gesture of passing, but then it occurred to me that an ode might be more appropriate for a couple of reasons: One, after the powerful and painful, self-inflicted suffering through the what Fanon famously called the lived condition of blackness in the Cahier, Césaire sought to construct a space of exaltation, one in which the colonial self could imagine itself to be at home in the world. Slaves in the Caribbean used to say that when they died they would eventually go back to Guinea; in this ode Césaire had imagined the poetic home to which he would return when the passage through the landscape of modernity was completed. Second, I have always been intrigued by Césaire’s relationship to Senghor: they are certainly very different poets, but in the for of the ode they often seem to
converge. In this particular poem, Césaire’s “Guinea” universalizes Senghor’s very specific geography. I’m intrigued by the translation of Senghor’s specific ethnos (located in the cultures of the Fouta Jallon) into the register of global blackness and the challenges involved in this translation.

1 Thought.

  1. I’m interested by the word “installing” in the first line. (Does anyone know what the original French is?) It seems to me such a modern word, especially in conjunction with “factory,” setting up an immediate technological context which is then effaced by all the natural, even primal, imagery in the rest of the poem. Is this meant to mark Guinea as a kind of pastoral space set apart from “the landscape of modernity,” as Professor Gikandi suggests? And, if so, what do we make of the fact that such a space needs to be “installed” in the poet before he can begin in his ode?

    Wonderful poem, by the way.

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