Léopold Senghor Analysis

Other literary forms

Léopold Senghor (sehn-GAWR) was a poet and a politician, a combination of professions unusual in the Anglo-Saxon world but not uncommon in French literary history. As one of the leaders of the emerging nationalism of the former French African colonies and later, as president of Senegal, Senghor was called on to make speeches, prepare reports, and write articles in newspapers, reviews, and periodicals. These many articles deal with a variety of topics: political, cultural, economic, judicial, and social, as well as literary. In 1948, Senghor edited Anthologie de la nouvelle poésie nègre et malgache de langue française, with a preface by Jean-Paul Sartre titled “Orphée noir.” Among Senghor’s prose works are Congrès constitutif du P.F.A.: Rapport sur la doctrine et le programme du parti (1959; Report on the Principles and Programme of the Party, 1959) and La Préhistoire et les groupes éthniques (1960; prehistory and ethnic groups). Senghor’s interest in socialism and its application in Africa was expressed in Nation et voie africaine du socialisme (1961; as volume 2 of Liberté, 1971; Nationhood and the African Road to Socialism, 1962; abridged as On African Socialism, 1964) and Théorie et pratique du socialisme sénégalais (1964). In the works of the Catholic thinker Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Senghor found a synthesis of Catholicism and socialism that fit his personal beliefs, reflected in Pierre Teilhard de Chardin et la politique africaine (1962). Liberté: Négritude et humanisme, 1964 (Freedom I: Negritude and Humanism, 1974) collects a wide range of Senghor’s articles and lectures.


As a result of his multitude of activities, Léopold Senghor presented a problem for critics assessing his poetic works. Does the fact that he was a black African make him a mouthpiece of black African peoples, or should he be judged only as a poet who happened to be black? Does the fact that Senghor wrote in French mean that he must be judged as a French poet or as an African—more specifically, a Senegalese poet—who happened to write in French? Must the fact that Senghor was a successful politician interfere with the way his poetry is judged?

There are no easy answers to these questions. Senghor himself was torn between the various worlds he inhabited, and—as is obvious in his poetry—he was not always successful in separating his different interests or in properly synthesizing them. As an educated, intelligent young Senegalese—he was the first African to receive the very competitive French agrégation (the equivalent of a doctorate for teachers) and thereby able to teach French in French lycées—Senghor became one of the leaders of the expatriate blacks in Paris during the 1930’s. With Aimé Césaire and Léon Damas, he founded the magazine L’Étudiant noir. After the war, he published his first collection of poems, Chants d’ombre, and three years later, his second, Hosties noires. It was not, however, until he edited an anthology of black poetry that same year, Anthologie de la nouvelle...

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Bâ, Sylvia W. The Concept of Negritude in the Poetry of Léopold Sédar Senghor. Princteon, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1973. Examines issues of race identity in Senghor’s works. Includes translations of selected poems. Bibliography.

Harney, Elizabeth. In Senghor’s Shadow: Art, Politics, and the Avant-garde in Senegal, 1960-1995. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2004. Re-examines Senghor’s views of modernism, his loyalties to France and Africa, and his legacy.

Hymans, Jacques. Leopold Sédar Senghor: An Intellectual Biography. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1971. This full biography pays particular attention to Senghor’s philosophical and literary development. Considers, among other things, the influence of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Paul Claudel, Marc Chagall, and Jacques Maritain. Bibliography.

Kluback, William. Léopold Sédar Senghor: From Politics to Poetry. New York: Peter Lang, 1997. A book of imagined conversations based on Senghor’s philosophy regarding humanity’s moral evolution.

Markovitz, Irving Leonard. Leopold Sédar Senghor and the Politics of Négritude. New York: Atheneum, 1969. A penetrating consideration of Senghor’s philosophy of leadership and issues of race identity.

Mezu, Sebastian Okechukwu. The Poetry of Leopold Sédar Senghor. Rutherford, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1973. A rare monograph focusing on Senghor’s poetry.

Rasmussen, R. Kent. Modern African Political Leaders. New York: Facts On File, 1998. Covers leaders, including Senghor, representative of the major regions of Africa during a period when many African nations moved from colonial rule to independence.

Spleth, Janice. Léopold Sédar Senghor. New York: Macmillan Library Reference, 1985. A detailed overview of Senghor’s poetry, his development as poet and statesman, and the conflicts of those two roles. This discussion involves the author in extending her coverage beyond Senghor to examine the relationship between French and francophone African literature in general.

_______, ed. Critical Perspectives on Léopold Sédar Senghor. Washington, D.C.: Three Continents Press, 1993. A collection of critical essays on Senghor’s writings.

Vaillant, Janet G. Black, French, and African: A Life of Leopold Sédar Senghor. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1990. A biography that adds to previous literature an extended examination of Senghor’s childhood, including interviews with his extended Senegalese family. More material on his poetry than on his presidency of Senegal. The first major biography in English