Aimé Césaire: Three Poems Newly Translated by Eshleman & Arnold

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 6:27 AM
Translation from French by Clayton Eshleman & A. James Arnold

TO THE SERPENT

I have had occasion in the bewilderment of cities to search for the right animal to adore. So I worked my way back to the first times. Undoing cycles untying knots crushing plots removing covers killing hostages I searched.
Ferret. Tapir. Uprooter.
Where where where the animal who warned me of floods
Where where where the bird who led me to honey
Where where where the bird who revealed to me the fountainheads
the memory of great alliances betrayed great friendships lost through our fault exalted me
Where where where
Where where where
The word made vulgar to me
O serpent sumptuous back do you enclose in your sinuous lash the powerful soul of my grandfather?
Greetings to you serpent through whom morning shakes its beautiful mango mauve December chevelure and for whom the milk-invented night tumbles its luminous mice down its wall
Greetings to you serpent grooved like the bottom of the sea and which my heart truly unbinds for us like the premise of the deluge
Greetings to you serpent your reputation is more majestic than their gait and the peace their God gives not you hold supremely.

Serpent delirium and peace

over the hurdles of a scurrilous wind the countryside dismembers for me secrets whose steps resounded at the outlet of the millenary trap of gorges that they tightened to strangulation.

to the trashcan! may they all rot in portraying the banner of a black crow weakening in a beating of white wings.
Serpent
broad and royal disgust overpowering the return in the sands of deception
spindrift nourishing the vain raft of the seagull
in the pale tempest of reassuring silences you the least frail warm yourself
You bathe yourself this side of the most discordant cries on the dreamy spumes of grass
when fire is exhaled from the widow boat that consumes the cape of the echo’s flash
just to make your successive deaths shiver all the more—green frequenting of the elements—your threat.

Your threat yes your threat body issuant from the raucous haze of bitterness where it corrupted the concerned lighthouse keeper and that whistling takes its little gallop time toward the assassin rays of discovery.

Serpent
charming biter of womens’ breasts and through whom death steals into the maturity in the depths of a fruit sole lord lord alone whose multiple image places on the strangler fig’s altar the offering of a chevelure that is an octopodal threat a sagacious hand that does not pardon cowards

AT THE LOCKS OF THE VOID

In the foreground and in longitudinal flight a dried-up brook drowsy roller of obsidian pebbles. In the background a decidedly not calm architecture of torn down burgs of eroded mountains on whose glimpsed phantom serpents chariots a cat’s-eye and alarming constellations are born. It is a strange firefly cake hurled into the gray face of time, a vast scree of shards of ikons of blazons of lice in the beard of Saturn. On the right very curiously standing against the squamous wall of crucified butterfly wings open in majesty a gigantic bottle whose very long golden neck drinks a drop of blood from the clouds. As for me I am no longer thirsty. It gives me pleasure to think of the world undone like an old copra mattress like an old voodoo necklace like the perfume of a felled peccary. I am no longer thirsty. All heads belong to me. It is sweet to be gentle as a lamb. It is sweet to open the great sluicegates of gentleness:

through the shaken sky
through the exploded stars
through the tutelary silence
from very far beyond myself I come toward you
woman sprung from a beautiful laburnum
and your eyes wounds barely closing
on your modesty at having been born

It is I who sings with a voice still caught up in the babbling of elements. It is sweet to be a piece of wood a cork a drop of water in the torrential flood of the end and of the new beginning. It is sweet to doze off in the shattered heart of things. I no longer have any sort of thirst. My sword made from a shark’s-tooth smile is becoming terribly useless. My mace is very obviously out of season and out of play. Rain is falling. It is a crisscross of rubble, it is a skein of steel for reinforced concrete, it is an incredible stowage of the invisible by first-rate ties, it is a branchwork of syphilis, it is the diagram of a brandy bender, it is the graphic representation of a seismic floodtide, it is a conspiracy of dodders, it is the nightmare’s head impaled on the lance point of a mob mad for peace and for bread.

I advance to the region of blue lakes. I advance to the region of sulphur springs.
I advance to my crateriform mouth toward which have I struggled enough? What have I to discard? Everything by god everything. I am stark naked. I have discarded everything. My genealogy. My widow. My companions. I await the boiling, I await the baptism of sperm. I await the wingbeat of the great seminal albatross supposed to make a new man of me. I await the immense tap, the vertiginous slap that will consecrate me as a knight of a plutonian order. I await in the depths of my pores the sacred intrusion of benediction.

And suddenly it is the outpouring of great rivers
it is the friendship of toucans’ eyes
it is the fulminating erection of virgin mountains
I am pregnant with my despair in my arms
I am pregnant with my hunger in my arms and my disgust in my mouth
I am invested. Europe patrols my veins like a pack of filariae at the stroke of midnight. To think that their philosophies tried to provide them with morals. That ferocious race won’t have put up with it.

Europe pig iron fragment
Europe low tunnel oozing a bloody dew
Europe old bag Europe
Europe old dog Europe worm-drawn coach
Europe peeling tattoo Europe your name is a raucous clucking and a muffled shock

I unfold my handkerchief it is a flag
I have donned my beautiful skin
I have adjusted my beautiful clawed paws

Europe
I hereby join all that powders the sky with its insolence all that is loyal and fraternal all that has the courage to be eternally new all that knows how to yield its heart to the fire all that has the strength to emerge from an inexhaustible sap all
that is calm and self-assured
all that is not you
Europe
eminent name of the turd


FORFEITURE

As soon as I press the little pawl that I have under my tongue at a spot that escapes all detection all microscopic bombardment all dowser divination all scholarly prospecting beneath it triple layer of false eyelashes of centuries of insults of strata of madrepores of what I must call my niagara cavern in a burst of cockroaches in a cobra twitch a tongue like a cause for astonishment makes the leap of a machine for spitting a mouthful of curses a rising of the sewers of hell a premonitory ejaculation a urinary spurt a foul emission a sulfuric rhythm feeding an uninterruption of interjections—and then right there pushing between the paving stones the furious blue eucalypti that leave far behind them the splendor of veronicas, skulls smack in the delirium of dust like the jaboticaba plum and then right there started up like the loud buzzing of a hornet the true war of devolution in which all means are justified right there the passenger pigeons of the conflagration right there the crackling of secret transmitters and the thick tufts of black smoke that resemble the vaginal vegetation thrust into the air by rutting loins. I count. Obstructing the street a honey-colored armillaria lying dwarf-like on its side a church uprooted and reduced by catastrophe to its true proportions of a public urinal. I cross over collapsed bridges. I cross under new arches. Toboggan eye at the bottom of a cheek amidst woodwinds and well-polished brasses a house abutting an abyss with in cut-away view the violated virginity of the daughter of the house the lost goods and chattels of the father and the mother who believed in the dignity of mankind and in the bottom of a wool stocking the testicles pierced by the knitting needle of an unemployed workman from distant lands.

I place my hand on my forehead it’s a hatching of monsoons. I place my hand on my dick. It fainted in leaf smoke. All the deserter light of the sky has taken refuge in the red white and yellow heated bars of snakes attentive to the wasting away of this landscape sneered at by dog piss.
For what?
The planets are very fertile birds that constantly and majestically disclose their guano silos
the earth on its spit alternatively vomits grease from each of its facets
fistfuls of fish hook their emergency lights to the pilasters of stars whose ancient slippage crumbles away during the night in a thick very bitter flavor of coca.

Who among you has never happened to strike an earth because of its inhabitants’ malice? Today I am standing and in the sole whiteness that men have never recognized in me.

*

[NOTE BY C.E. These three poems are from Aimé Césaire’s unexpurgated 1948 text of Soleil cou coupé (Solar Throat Slashed), cotranslated by A. James Arnold and Clayton Eshleman, to be published by Wesleyan University Press in 2011. In the late 1950s, at the same time that he was increasingly politically focused, Césaire, in effect, gelded Soleil cou coupé, cutting out 31 of the 72 poems in the collection, and editing out a significant amount of material from another 29, leaving only 12 poems untouched. To this revised text was added the 1949 10 poem collection, Corps perdu (Lost Body). This material was then published in 1961 as Cadastre (looking at this word now, I always see the shadow of “castration” in it). For decades, Cadastre has represented Soleil cou coupé.

However, in 1994, with the publication of Césaire’s La Poésie, the eliminated poems, along with the lines cut from the revised ones, were reprinted as "Soleil cou coupé: poèmes non repris dans la version définitive.” Arnold and I are in agreement that the unexpurgated 1948 Soleil cou coupé is probably Césaire’s MOST substantial and powerful collection of poems. Concerning the three poems printed here: “To the Serpent” and “Forfeiture” were both eliminated from Cadastre. In the case of “At the Locks of the Void,” a dozen lines were cut, and what was left of the poem appeared in Cadastre.

The revision of the last two lines of the poem is quite striking: “Europe / eminent name of the turd” was changed to: “considerable hiccup.” Readers can check out the 1961 revision in Aimé Césaire: The Collected Poetry (cotranslated by Clayton Eshleman and Annette Smith, University of California Press, 1983).

--Clayton Eshleman, January 2010]

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