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  • The First Day*
  • Édouard Glissant
    Translated by Mary Ann Caws (bio)

The teller measures his word in immeasurable radiance. He goes, throughsolitude itself, to sing the earth, and those who suffer it. He offers the word notto those whom it delights, who are elated by it: but to the bodies burned bytime: thickets, people compelled, bare villages, the many on the shore.

When this wise sailor, this speaker of measure, is ended by his song, it giveshim a fresh beginning. He comes, just a child, in the early morning. He sees theoriginal foam, the first sweat of salt. History, waiting.

Mary Ann Caws

Mary Ann Caws is Distinguished Professor of English, French, and Comparative Literature at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. She is author of such works as The Surrealist Look: An Erotics of Encounter, Women of Bloomsbury: Virginia, Vanessa, and Carrington, Robert Motherwell: What Art Holds, Picasso’s Weeping Woman: The Life and Art of Dora Maar, Robert Motherwell with Pen and Brush, and is editor and translator of Approximate Man and Other Writings by Tristan Tzara, The Secret Art of Antonin Artaud by Jacques Derrida, and Ostinato by Louis-René des Forêts; the editor and co-translator of the HarperCollins World Reader, The Yale Anthology of Twentieth-Century French Poetry, Capital of Pain by Paul Eluard, Essential Poems and Writings of Robert Desnos, Surrealist Painters and Poets, Surrealism, Surrealist Love Poems, and the co-editor and co-translator of Poems of André Breton and ofFuror and Mystery and Other Writings of René Char. Recently, she has published Surprised in Translation, How Vita Matters, and Provençal Cooking: Savoring the Simple Life in France. She is the recipient of fellowships from such institutions as Guggenheim, National Endowment for the Humanities, Getty, and Rockefeller, and is a fellow of the New York Institute for the Humanities and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.


* “The First Day” was originally published in French in Sel noir (Paris: Gallimard, 1983). The poems “X,” “XI,” and “XII” that follow are the last three poems in the section entitled “The First Day.” The English translation is published with permission from Gallimard. [End Page 849]



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