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5 - Caliban et les poésies du monde / Caliban and World Poetry

Translating Aimé Césaire

John Fletcher
p. 229-233

Abstract

Un des fondateurs du mouvement littéraire de la Négritude et anticolonialiste résolu, député de la Martinique et maire de Fort-de France, Aimé Césaire fut avant tout un grand poète qui s’illustra également dans l’essai et au théàtre (La tragédie du roi Christophe, Une tempête). Dans tous ses écrits, mais surtout à travers le personnage shakespearien de Caliban, le poète-dramaturge donne la parole au colonisé occulté et opprimé. Le poème ici traduit, dédié à son ami sénégalais Alioune Diop, témoigne de l’immense talent poétique d’un grand apôtre de la Négritude.

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Dedication

In memoriam Victor Dupont

Full text

Aimé Césaire, "Stèle obsidienne pour Alioune Diop", first published in Présence Africaine, n° 126, 2e trimestre 1983, 6; also published in La poésie (Paris : Seuil, 2006), 489-90. The translator and the editors wish to thank Présence Africaine for permission to use this poem by Aimé Césaire first published in Présence Africaine and they thank Marc Césaire and his représentatives who gave them permission to publish the poem and its translation in this issue of Caliban on revues.org.

1Aimé Césaire (1913-2008) was a Martiniquan poet and statesman, and a founder-member of the Négritude movement the aim of which was to decolonise the mind. Alioune Diop (1910-1980), another member of the movement, was a Senegalese statesman and publisher.

  • 1 James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1960), 253.
  • 2 Aimé Césaire, Une tempête (Paris: Seuil, 1969), 25.

2I chose to translate this poem, written by Césaire in homage to Diop and never to my knowledge Englished before, because I have long been fascinated by the way Francophone writers of African descent manage, at one and the same time, to display a dazzling mastery of the language of their former colonial masters and to use it (in the words of Stephen Dedalus in James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man) to "forge in the smithy of [their] soul the uncreated conscience of [their] race."1 In Une tempête, adaptation pour un théâtre nègre (1969), Césaire’s anticolonialist take on Shakespeare’s The Tempest, the Martiniquan tackles the issue head-on. In Césaire’s adaptation Caliban is a poet, and as such adopts Stephen Dedalus’s standpoint concerning the language of the colonial oppressor: "Tu ne m’as rien appris du tout. Sauf, bien sûr, à baragouiner ton langage pour comprendre tes ordres."2

3In the poem here translated, as in all his writings, Césaire’s French, like Senghor’s, is rich and complex. He uses rare French words like "déshérences," "nieller" and "récade." I have tried to capture this richness by using rare English words like "fanc" (mud) and "nielloed."

4Césaire does not use metre or rhyme. His verse has an incantatory quality which I have tried to reflect faithfully in English by using a kind of blank verse.

5The problems I encountered are no different from those confronting any translator of verse. Poetry may be deemed by pessimists to be "untranslatable," but in my view it can be done if one aspires to enter into the spirit of the original, and if one strives to reproduce its unique tone of voice.

  • 3 Aimé Cesaire, A Tempest, translated by Philip Crispin (London: Oberon Books, 2000), 7-8.

6Césaire did not choose, as he might have done, to write in Creole, but "marooned" himself in the purest metropolitan French with the aim – that of "writing back"—which he shares with the Mumbai-born Anglophone novelist Salman Rushdie3. We can only be grateful that this "Caliban" chose French, the language of those who enslaved his ancestors, to "forge the uncreated conscience" of his race.2

Stèle obsidienne
pour Alioune Diop

7                    Frère pour toi je t'ai instruit en oiseau
oiseau ganga d'Afrique pour traverser intact le plus chaud
des sables du désert
          oiseau coliou d'Afrique pour déjouer les ruses de la
          broussaille et affronter le rire
de la forêt
          franchisseur d'areg
          huppe redressée d'un soudain orgueil
          tu savais voler haut
                                        migrant majeur
tu savais voler loin
haut surtout
embrassant d'un coup d'œil seul et jusqu'à sa plus lointaine parcelle
le patrimoine héréditaire
inspecteur des déshérences
testeur des fidélités
n'agréant de quotidien commerce
qu'avec les espérances inaperçues et les vastes souvenirs
dont la faveur niellait au creux ou dormait au revers
la finesse légendaire de chacun de tes gestes

8obsidienne de la mémoire
homme du rescrit
                    homme de la récade

9                         le Message
à travers la poussière des confins
et le ventre et la vague
tu le tins au-dessus de ta tête toujours
à bout de bras hors boue
à bout de cœur
                    hors peur
fidèle à l'ordre intime.

1020 avril 1983

Obsidian stele
For Alioune Diop

11          Brother for you
          you I instructed as a bird
an African sandgrouse to cross untrammelled the hottest
sands of the desert
          an African mousebird to outwit the thicket’s guile
          and brave the mockery
of the forest
          overflyer of salt flats
          crest erect with sudden pride
          you were able to go high
                                                  major migrant
you could fly far
but mainly high
solitary surveyor
to its remotest corner
of the landed inheritance
inspector of escheats
tester of loyalties
accepting daily commerce
only with unnoticed hopes and vast memories
their favour
intaglio nielloed or on the reverse dormant
the legendary fineness of your every gesture

12obsidian of memory
man of the rescript
                              man of the recado

13                                        the Message
through the dust of the furthest limits
and the womb and the wave
you held it aloft always
at arm’s length clear of the fanc
at heart’s length
                              beyond fear
loyal to order
its innermost.

14April 20, 1983

15Translated from the French of Aimé Césaire by John Fletcher

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Bibliography

Césaire, Aimé, A Tempest, translated by Philip Crispin, London: Oberon

Books, 2000.

-----, La poésie, Paris: Seuil, 2006.

-----, "Stèle obsidienne pour Alioune Diop", Présence Africaine, n° 126, 2e

trimestre 1983, 6.

-----, Une tempête, Paris: Seuil, 1969.

Joyce, James, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man [1916], Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1960.

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Notes

1 James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1960), 253.

2 Aimé Césaire, Une tempête (Paris: Seuil, 1969), 25.

3 Aimé Cesaire, A Tempest, translated by Philip Crispin (London: Oberon Books, 2000), 7-8.

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References

Bibliographical reference

John Fletcher, « Translating Aimé Césaire », Caliban, 52 | 2014, 229-233.

Electronic reference

John Fletcher, « Translating Aimé Césaire », Caliban [Online], 52 | 2014, Online since 22 April 2015, connection on 27 February 2020. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/caliban/647 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/caliban.647

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About the author

John Fletcher

Emeritus Professor, University of Kent.

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Copyright

Licence Creative Commons
Caliban – French Journal of English Studies est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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