restricted access Ferrements (1960)
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FERREMENTS POÈMES 525 FERRAMENTS POEMS In 1960, the Seuil publishing house issued this collection of forty-nine poems, thirty-one of which had been published separately during the previous decade. Ferraments has attracted far more critical attention than any of Césaire’s titles apart from the post-1956 Notebook because it conformed nicely to the ideological vision readers gleaned from the revised Discourse on Colonialism (1955), the Présence Africaine edition of the Notebook (1956), and the version of And the Dogs Were Silent that Césaire rewrote for the theater (1956). Consequently, the elements of the comparative negritude mythography present in The Miraculous Weapons and Solar Throat Slashed were pushed into the background of readings that advanced a political agenda. Césaire commented on the collection’s title in 1960: “[Ferraments] are quite simply the iron shackles the slaves wore during the time of the slave trade. It’s a word that belongs to the vocabulary of the slavers.” With reference to the poem “Ferment,” which plays on homophony with Ferrements, he added in the same interview that the poet’s and the poem’s role is “to be the ferment of the daily need to make hope rise” (CAA). The decade of the 1950s marked a relative lull in Césaire’s production after his remarkable output in the 1940s. However, four texts published in the magazine Les Lettres in 1954 are his first known experiments with the prose poem. The same year, the widely read Journal des Poètes published three militant poems that burnished Césaire’s image as a staunch opponent of colonialism in the eyes of the general public. A grouping of five poems printed together in the April-June 1955 issue of Présence Africaine was described as belonging to the collection Liminary Vampire, which was never published. In May 1955, Les Lettres nouvelles offered six new poems, the first of which bore the title “Liminary Vampire.” Clearly, a collection bearing that title was in the preparation stage. According to Pierre Laforgue, Césaire’s public quarrel with Louis Aragon—the former surrealist who emerged from the Second World War as the literary commissar of the French Communist 527 Party—was a watershed moment (PTED, 524). “Reply to Depestre Haitian Poet (Elements of an Ars Poetica)” appeared in the April-June 1955 issue of Présence Africaine as well. The importance of the ensuing quarrel over regular prosody and revolutionary politics far outstripped the didactic features of Césaire’s poem, which we have edited in the “Noria” collection later in this volume. Laforgue assumes that the final ordering of Ferraments owes something to the hardening of Césaire’s position on experimental poetry in the face of Aragon’s Stalinist objections. Three distinct voices make themselves heard in Ferraments: commitment to the anticolonialist struggle; “a fantastic evocation of black bondage throughout history”; and an elegiac voice marked by an esthetic “distance from the scene it evokes” (CCP, 23‑24). In France, Césaire’s commitment to the anticolonialist struggle, which was on the cusp of fruition in Africa when the collection was published, has dominated commentary of Ferraments to the exclusion of the other two voices. In North America, attention was called to this problem in the reception of Césaire’s poetry by Arnold’s Modernism and Negritude in 1981 (AMN). The present edition places Ferraments in its proper perspective at the mid-point between the heroic negritude of the 1940s, with its tragic underpinnings, and Césaire’s later nostalgic poetry, written in the wake of African independence and its eventual disappointments. ...

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