Aimé Césaire Poetry: World Poets Analysis
Aimé Césaire arrived in France in 1931, at a time when Surrealism had already begun to dominate the literary scene. Instead of an ideology, this movement provided Césaire with the poetic vision and creative license to set his own creative Muse into action. Fleeing the oppressive poverty of his native Martinique, Césaire was ripe for the ideals put forth by the Surrealists. He was attracted, in particular, to the notion of écriture automatique (automatic writing) and the Freudian concept of the self, hidden in the recesses of the subconscious, waiting only for a propitious moment to reveal itself. Armed with these two concepts, Césaire destroyed the poems he had written previously and began writing his epic poem Return to My Native Land, which would eventually gain for him great fame. More significant, he adopted the methods of the Surrealists in the service of a truly revolutionary cause.
Thus, Césaire’s sojourn in France, originally envisioned as an escape from the hopeless conditions in Martinique, resulted instead in his own cultural and political awakening. While pursuing his studies in Paris at the Lycée Louis-le-Grand, he met Senghor (who later became the first president of Senegal and one of Africa’s greatest francophone writers). Thanks to their friendship, Césaire acquired a greater knowledge and appreciation of Africa. Together, they joined forces with Léon Damas, another young poet, to establish the journal L’Étudiant noir, which replaced a previous journal, Légitime défense, that had been silenced after its first publication. Thus, Césaire’s cultural and political consciousness gradually began to take on a more concrete form. Before, racism and colonial exploitation were, in his perception, limited mainly to the geographical confines of the West Indies and, especially, to Martinique. Once in Paris, however, he began to realize that the suffering of blacks extended well beyond the boundaries of his homeland. For Césaire, Senghor, and Damas, the creation of L’Étudiant noir was an acknowledgment that blacks in the West Indies, Africa, and elsewhere underwent a common experience.
Although Césaire worked zealously to produce a poem that would express the range, depth, and complexity of his poetic vision, his efforts were not initially received with enthusiasm. The first publisher to whom he submitted Return to My Native Land refused to publish the poem. Césaire succeeded in having only excerpts from the poem published in the magazine Volonté in 1939. Consequently, both the poet and his work went unnoticed for the most part, but this did little to dampen his creative spirit. When Césaire finally returned to Martinique, where he founded the journal Tropiques with the aid of his wife, Suzanne Césaire; René Menil; and Aristide Maugée, he continued to bring to life his poetic inspirations. It was not, however, until Césaire met André Breton (who became aware of Césaire’s poetic genius after having read, in Tropiques, the poems that make up Miraculous Weapons) that Césaire was reintroduced to France’s reading public. Subsequent admiration of Césaire’s work was not limited to writers or political figures. The 1950 deluxe edition of Disembodied contained thirty-two engravings by Pablo Picasso that richly illustrated the ten poems in the collection. The poetic genius that caught the attention of Breton continues to be recognized by Césaire’s critics.
Return to My Native Land
In his preface to the first complete edition of Césaire’s Return to My Native Land, Breton remarked that this poem represented the “greatest lyrical monument of the times.” Indeed, Césaire’s first major poem has left an indelible mark upon literature. Of all his works, Return to My Native Land is, by far, the most criticized, analyzed, and quoted.
If poetry allows the human spirit to liberate itself from the bonds of reason, as the Surrealists suggest, then it becomes quite clear why Césaire’s first major work has such a strong autobiographical tone. The ever-present “I” calls attention to the poet’s desire to become rooted once again in his history and culture. Thus, Return to My Native Land, a poem of revolt, self-awakening, and “engagement,” represents, first and foremost, the poet’s personal testimony. From the start, it recalls the town where Césaire grew up, an image that seems both to attract and to repel him. He vividly evokes the stagnant existence of black peasants in Martinique, trapped in...
(The entire section is 1891 words.)