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

"Caliban," a poem by Syl Cheney-Coker or Caliban in Sierra Leone 

Christiane Fioupou
p. 235-238

Abstract

Une traduction française du poème "Caliban," du romancier et poète sierra-léonais Syl Cheney-Coker, est proposée ici à la suite du texte original ; le poème est précédé d’une courte présentation qui introduit les commentaires du poète sur "son Caliban" et la société krio de Sierra Leone.

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  • 1 The Krios (or Creoles) of Sierra Leone are the descendants of freed slaves who, in the 18th and 19t (...)
  • 2 Syl Cheney-Coker, The Last Harmattan of Alusine Dunbar, Oxford: Heinemann International, 1990. The (...)
  • 3 Syl Cheney-Coker, Sacred River, Athens: Ohio University Press, 2014.
  • 4 Syl Cheney-Coker, “Caliban,” in The Blood in the Desert’s Eyes (Oxford: Heinemann International, 19 (...)

1Syl Cheney-Coker was born in Freetown, Sierra Leone, into a Krio family.1 The Last Harmattan of Alusine Dunbar,2 his first epic novel set in the fictional town of Malagueta, captures over three centuries of his country’s complex and mixed heritage through an exhilarating blend of history, myth, and magic. His recently published follow-up novel, Sacred River3—another rich, witty, and imaginative chronicle of Malagueta, with its megalomaniac President, its pretenders, "Sorcerers and Poets," women and mermaids—, as well as his five published volumes of poetry, evince a keen sense of history and conflicting legacies, at home and abroad. The poem reproduced and translated here, "Caliban," published in 1990,4 can find no better introduction than by the author himself:

  • 5 Syl Cheney-Coker, email correspondence with Christiane Fioupou, July 2014.

As a young man, there was so much rage in me, partly fuelled by a sense of unease over what my identity meant: the Afro-Saxon beginnings and, for some people, acceptance of an identity foisted upon us by missionaries and colonials. Creole/Krio society in Sierra Leone was my 'Caliban': not the brutish image in The Tempest. We were supposed to be 'different' civilized, black English men and women, but we were really trapped between two narratives–both of which had betrayed us: slavery/African (the lost mother) and slaver/English (the adopted mother ??). Caliban's torment is thus that of the so-called 'noble savage' (sic!) (quite comfortable and harmless in the eyes of his former captors; but admired, while being distrusted, by those with whom he shares a historical African bond, but really very little else.) So his rage at being an 'in-between' character is what the poem is all about. You may remember that, in The Tempest, Caliban said to Prospero, in substance: 'You taught me language, now I am going to use it.' My Caliban must first shake off the implied sense of being 'noble' and then create his own language and identity. Sometimes he is violent, but not as implied in The Tempest. It is the violence of a new man, a new identity. Thus the implication of putting out Dali's donkey collapsing in flames is therapeutic: all the familiar must be destroyed and recreated, and much more.5

Caliban

2Mute, suspended from cliff to his grave
listening to demonic violins;
if he bellows the thorax expands in dialect;
teeth gnawing at the spleen that stored up too much blood

3Stepping on that ancient secretion washed out to dry
if the allergic cough excels in alligator pepper
let it be brutal in lost tonsils, in the curve of his frenum;
waiting on the sole of the tongue, the palette of the feet,
over bent speech, illuminations of raw death
in the lustre of vampires
now that in reviewing his lot he descends
headlong into pain, operatic in green pepper
feeling in spasms of rage
how the umbilicus was raped by pestilential blood

4But listening to this final nocturne
he will pause in death to wash his face
which is after all a stroke of good fortune
he will keep it under his arm, putting out Salvador Dali’s donkey
collapsing in flames with his bruised hand
He will share his last bottle with us arguing over
the beast of his life, crying to stop him
from pulling out his hair, from disgracing
the never-was-life-so-difficult moment
Organic suffering stitched to his collar
is all he takes with him, this clobber
this earth of antediluvian death which he understands!

5Syl Cheney-Coker

Caliban

6Muet, suspendu de falaise jusqu’à la tombe
à l’écoute de violons diaboliques ;
s’il braille le thorax se dilate en dialecte ;
les dents rongent la rate engorgée de trop de sang

7Marchant sur cette antique sécrétion épanchée pour tarir
si la toux allergique excelle avec le poivre de malaguette
qu’elle soit brutale dans les amygdales perdues, dans la courbe de son frein ;
en attente sur la semelle de la langue, sur la palette des pieds,
par-dessus la parole gauchie, des illuminations de mort crue
dans le lustre des vampires
maintenant qu’en ressassant son sort il sombre
tête première dans la douleur, stentorique avec le poivre vert
éprouvant dans des spasmes de rage
comment l’ombilic fut violé par le sang pestilentiel

8Mais à l’écoute de ce nocturne final
il fera halte dans la mort pour se laver le visage
ce qui après tout est une bonne aubaine
il la gardera sous le bras, éteignant de sa main meurtrie
l’âne de Salvador Dali qui s’effondre en flammes
Il partagera sa dernière bouteille avec nous en discutant de
sa vie de bête, pleurant pour arrêter
de s’arracher les cheveux, de déshonorer
ce moment de ça-n’a-jamais-été-aussi-dur
Sa souffrance organique, cousue au collet
est tout ce qu’il prend avec lui, ce barda,
cette terre de mort antédiluvienne qu’il comprend !

9Poème traduit de l’anglais par Christiane Fioupou

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Notes

1 The Krios (or Creoles) of Sierra Leone are the descendants of freed slaves who, in the 18th and 19th centuries, successively came from London, America, Jamaica and Africa to settle on the Sierra Leone coast where British philanthropists, helped by abolitionists, had established a place of refuge for liberated slaves. This coastal settlement, with the capital Freetown founded in 1787, became a British colony in 1807, and the rest of Sierra Leone a British protectorate in 1896. Sierra Leone gained its independence in 1961.

2 Syl Cheney-Coker, The Last Harmattan of Alusine Dunbar, Oxford: Heinemann International, 1990. The novel was awarded the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize for the best book on Africa.

3 Syl Cheney-Coker, Sacred River, Athens: Ohio University Press, 2014.

4 Syl Cheney-Coker, “Caliban,” in The Blood in the Desert’s Eyes (Oxford: Heinemann International, 1990), 19. The translator and the editors wish to thank Syl Cheney-Coker for giving permission to use the original poem in this issue, as well as the email correspondence quoted here.

5 Syl Cheney-Coker, email correspondence with Christiane Fioupou, July 2014.

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References

Bibliographical reference

Christiane Fioupou, « "Caliban," a poem by Syl Cheney-Coker or Caliban in Sierra Leone  », Caliban, 52 | 2014, 235-238.

Electronic reference

Christiane Fioupou, « "Caliban," a poem by Syl Cheney-Coker or Caliban in Sierra Leone  », Caliban [Online], 52 | 2014, Online since 22 April 2015, connection on 17 February 2020. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/caliban/657 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/caliban.657

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About the author

Christiane Fioupou

Université de Toulouse-Jean Jaurès (Le Mirail), CAS.

By this author

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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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