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This review is taken from PN Review 98, Volume 20 Number 6, July - August 1994.

AVE CESAIRE AIMÉ CÉSAIRE,La Poésie (Éditions du Seuil), 1994, 250F.

By rendering unto Césaire that which, in respect of his poetry at least, is Césaire's, this first collected edition of his poems published - and therefore generally available - in Europe allows us to take the measure of his contribution and of his stature. Both are considerable, but neither is without its ambiguities.

The volume is presented in a bound form matching the same publisher's collected Poémes of Senghor, so emphasising the affinities between the two main founding fathers of Négritude. Their differences are nonetheless significant, however, starting from their personal histories. As against the Serer aristocrat whose ancestors have never known slavery, Césaire, in common with all New World people of African origin, is heir to the trauma of one of man's great inhumanities to man. His writing seethes with anger at a shared injustice, the consequences of which will reverberate for many years to come. Unlike Senghor, he sees no good reason for composing with white domination. A line from his hugely important inaugural poem of 1939, Cahierd'un retour au pays natal, puts it in a nutshell and will never be gainsaid: 'Accommodez-vouz de moi Je. ne m'accommode pas de vous!' (p.31).

Césaire was born on 26 June 1913 at Basse-Pointe, on the northernmost coast of Martinique, into a middle-class family - his father was a school inspector - not to be confused with the fictional one which he presents in the Cahiér, where the mother works day and night at her treadle ...


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