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 ix INTRODUCTION Aimé Césaire is a master of twentieth-century French poetry. His work gives an original new direction to the long line of predecessors that includes Hugo, Baudelaire, Lautréamont, Rimbaud, Mallarmé, Claudel, and Péguy. The Complete Poetry of Aimé Césaire makes available, for the first time in English, the original editions of his published œuvre. Taking a genetic or prospective approach to his work was necessary in order to make accessible the unexpurgated collections Césaire published between 1939 and 1950. When he died in Martinique in April 2008 at the age of 94, Césaire was hailed in the press as the “bard of negritude,” which placed a vague political stamp on his body of work. The long arc of his poetic career moves through several stages, only one of which has been seriously studied. Consequently the term negritude, which his poetry is presumed to reference, has been interpreted in terms of his poetics from the mid-1950s to the 1960s (ALL). Roughly three-quarters of his œuvre has been neglected, either because it was obscured by the self-censorship that presided over the rewriting of Solar Throat Slashed for the 1961 edition in Cadastre, or because—like i, laminaria. . . (1982) and the 1939 text of the Cahier/Notebook—it does not conform to the norms derived from Césaire’s political turn in the 1950s. Well-intentioned critics have long invoked Rimbaud’s claim that the poet is a seer (voyant), but rarely have they connected this trait with his equally strong prophetic stance and its frequent Old Testament overtones. Similarly, Lautréamont has been called upon to justify Césaire’s most aggressive images but without connecting them to the practice of free associative metaphor (métaphore filée) characteristic of the surrealist poetry he wrote in the 1940s. If negritude is what Césaire’s poetry was about, then that slippery term needs to be considered as a different episteme from the one that has driven political readings of his work. In our notes on the poems, we reference the volume that made first editions of Césaire’s poetic œuvre available in French: Poésie, Théâtre, Essais et Discours, edited by A. J. Arnold and an international team of specialists (Césaire PTED). Publication of PTED has enabled us to translate a considerable amount of new material in many of Césaire’s poems. For example, in “Batuque” (from The Miraculous Weapons) there are 269 changes from x Introduction the version published in the 1983 Collected Poetry. In our new translation of the Ferraments collection, there are 1,042 changes from the 1983 version . Of the eight collections comprising The Complete Poetry (CCP), three have been translated by Arnold and Eshleman exclusively: The Original 1939 Notebook. . ., Solar Throat Slashed, and Like a Misunderstanding of Salvation. With regard to the Eshleman-Smith translation of The Collected Poetry, Eshleman was solely responsible for the final version. As he wrote in “At the Locks of the Void,” “I met with Césaire in Paris twice on my own and once, when we had our questions down to a dozen, with Annette. At the point that a final draft was possible, I holed up for two weeks in the stacks of the Cal Tech library with a typewriter and piles of reference materials” (ELV). In conversation with Daniel Maximin in 1982, Césaire said of his poetic career: “We are men of the sacred. I am not an initiate, or I have been initiated through poetry, if you like, and I believe that I am a man of the sacred. . . So I believe that the sacred exists in us, but it is a sacred that has been profaned, that has been clichéd. . . To find the sacred again means to restore its energy; in other words, to restore to the sacred its revolutionary dimension, in the strict sense of the word” (MFV, 242, 243). Most readers in the English-speaking world have approached Césaire through one or another of the post-1956 editions of Notebook of a Return to the Native Land, and his Discourse on Colonialism. They quite understandably see Césaire as a political poet whose work is tied tightly to the struggle to decolonize the African continent in the 1960s. It is true that from 1956 onward, Césaire encouraged this view by allowing Présence Africaine to present it as an “African” poem: “[Previous editions] are far from...


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