Solar Throat Slashed

Aimé Césaire

When in the Heat of the Day Naked Monks Descend the Himalayas

Very powerful pendant the mosquitoes equipped with maremma grapeshot-loaded volutes gigolo of brutality with wild boar wallow darky feet

Very powerful pendant the great rivers that verminously disconnect their really filthy thighs blue lips spurting a raw vaginal laugh

Very powerful pendant the soft face of pollen getting ground up in the wind's conspiracy and the smoking chimneys under the tunnel of the shoulders of carbuncular wild beasts with eyes tenderer than their grassy surroundings

Very powerful monster against monster
yours whose body is a statue of red woody sap
whose spittle is fofa urine
mine whose sweat is a gush of caiman bile

let me dislodge them finally like a night rainy with howler monkey cries from my chest
as tender as fly agaric

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 and 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 in 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 vodun 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 staggered 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 closed
                                          on your modesty at being 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 waters 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 iron 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 made 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 the 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

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 certain
All that is not you
eminent name of the turd

To Africa

                                  For Wifredo Lam

Peasant strike the soil with your pickhoe
in the soil there is an urgency that no syllable of the event may unknot
I recall the notorious plague that will occur in the year 3000
there was no annunciatory star
merely the earth in a pebbleless wave kneading out of space a bread of grass and
strike peasant strike
on the first day the birds shall die
on the second day the fish beached
on the third day the animals came out of the woods
and formed a hot belt great and powerful around the cities
strike the soil with your pickhoe
there is in the soil the map of the transmutations and trickeries of death
on the fourth day the vegetation withered
and everything turned bitter from the agave to the acacia
in egrets and vegetal organ pipes
or the spiny wind played flutes and trenchant odors
Strike peasant strike
in the sky are born windows that are my spurted eyes
and their harrow in my chest forms the rampart of a city refusing passage to the muleteers of despair
Strike the soil with your pickhoe
there are elemental waters singing in the bends of the magnetic field the hatching of the earth's little shoes
passemented lamprey expectation I await with vulnerary expectations a countryside to be
born in my mistress's ears and to turn verdant in her sex
the belly of my mistress is a thunderbolt of fine weather
the thighs of my mistress play at being trees fallen along her stride
there is at the foot of our fairy castles for the rendezvous of blood and landscape the ballroom in which dwarfs brandishing mirrors listen to the sex of a gaze growing in the folds of stone or salt
peasant so that she whom the wind wounds can emerge from the mountain's head
so that a mouthful of bells can cool down in her throat
bells that unravel into crows into skirts into drillers of isthmuses
so that my wave may be devoured in her wave and lead us back onto the sand as drowned
ones as the flesh of guavas torn into the blueprint of a hand into beautiful seaweed into
aerial seed into a bubble into recollection into a precatory tree
let your act be a wave that howls and regathers toward the hollow of beloved rocks as if
to perfect an island rebelling against birth
there is in the soil the scruple of tomorrow and the burden of speech as well as silence
and to hell with those who do not understand that it is not beautiful to praise the eternal
and to celebrate your name o Most High
for you have neither the glistening strength of the buffalo nor the mathematical science of
the ibis nor the patience of the black man
and the cow-dung that you roll with less dexterity than the scarab is second in luxury to
the words knotted beneath my tongue

Eternal I am thinking neither of you nor of your bats
but I do think of Ishtar badly defended by the crumbling hound-pack of her vestments
whom each zero utterance of uvulas further below near metals pretending to sleep with
their faces inclines
and the serpents swaying sycamore hair in the depth of our exiles enciphers with shadow
and knowledge

Peasant the wind in which ships' hulls glide stops the distant hand of a dream around my
your field in its havoc explodes erect with deep-sea monsters that I shall not thrust aside
and my gesture is as pure as a forgetful brow

strike peasant I am your son
at the hour of the setting sun dusk splashes under my eyelid a yellowish green tepid with
undozing iguanas
but the beautiful messenger ostrich born suddenly from the aroused forms of woman
beckons to me of the future in friendship

translated from the French by A. James Arnold and Clayton Eshleman

Click here to read Amy Wright's essay on Aimé Césaire.

Read the original in French

Read translator’s note

Aimé Césaire was an African-Martinican francophone poet, author, and politician. He was one of the founders of the négritude movement in Francophone literature.

A. James Arnold is the author of Modernism and Negritude: The Poetry and Poetics of Aimé Césaire (Harvard, 1981), the editor of Césaire's Lyric and Dramatic Poetry, 1946–82 (Virginia, 1990), translated by Clayton Eshleman and Annette Smith, and the lead editor of the Paris edition of Césaire's literary works (in progress).

Clayton Eshleman has recently published, among others, a translation of The Complete Poetry of Cesar Vallejo with a Foreword by Mario Vargas Llosa (U of Cal Press, 2007), The Grindstone of Rapport / A Clayton Eshleman Reader (Black Widow Press, 2008) and Anticline (Black Widow Press, 2010). In the spring of 2011, besides Aime Cesaire's Solar Throat Slashed (cotranslated with A. James Arnold), to be published by Wesleyan University Press, he will publish Curdled Skulls, a translation of the poetry of Bernard Bador (Black Widow Press), and, with Lucas Klein, a translation of 31 poems by Bei Dao, called Endure (Black Widow Press). A professor emeritus at Eastern Michigan University, he continues to live in Ypsilanti with his wife Caryl.

In 1948, when Aimé Césaire's Solar Throat Slashed (Soleil Cou coupé) was published by a small house that showcased non-commercial writing in the Surrealist orbit, the Martinican poet was a Communist Deputy from Martinique. He found himself in the uncomfortable position of representing a party whose literary platform was socialist-realist, whereas his poetics had for a decade explored the most advanced and daring avenues of the avant-garde. The previous year he had published the first French edition of his long poem Notebook of a Return to the Native Land (Cahier d'un retour au pays natal) as a book and he had participated in the Paris Surrealist Exposition. In 1946 the Gallimard publishing house had issued his first collection of poetry, championed by André Breton. We believe Solar Throat Slashed is the high point and the major accomplishment of this first period of Césaire's poetic production.

In 1961, immediately after the cascade of declarations of independence by France's former colonies in Africa, Césaire published a bowdlerized version of Solar Throat Slashed in a new composite collection entitled Cadastre/Cadaster. Readers of that book or of the translation Clayton Eshleman and Annette Smith did for the University of California Press edition of Césaire's Collected Poetry in 1983, have had no access to the revolutionary poetics that underlay the original, unexpurgated edition of 1948.  Césaire had eliminated 31 of the 72 original  poems, and had edited more or less severely 29 of those he did reissue.  Of the three poems published by Asymptote, one (À l'heure où dans la chaleur...) was cut from the 1961 edition, and the other two saw their sexual connotations and their prophetic stance censored so as to bring the texts in line with a more political reading. "To Africa," which was first published in the post-war poetry magazine Poésie 46, is an excellent example of both processes. The "Africa" of the 1948 poem is the ancestral home of the descendants of slaves, as much or more than it represents the colonized continent.  By removing lines that allude to a plague that will occur in the year 3000, as well as numerous examples of surrealist metaphors with a strong sexual content, Césaire substantially reoriented the poem. "At the Locks of the Void," which in the text we translate here develops a fiercely anti-European stance, was cut very carefully so as to remove the strongest language and the sharpest bite.

Our hope is that the Wesleyan University Press edition of Solar Throat Slashed, due out in late Spring 2011, will spark a general reassessment of Césaire as a major voice in twentieth century poetry.

A. James Arnold