27 Aimé Fernand David Césaire

Aimé Fernand David Césaire (1913-2008)

Aimé Fernand David Césaire (1913-2008)

Selected Poems



The great Caribbean poet and playwright Aimé Césaire was born in Martinique of Igbo, Nigerian descent in 1913. As a young man, he studied in Paris, where he began to publish his poetry and founded a literary magazine called L’Étudiant Noir (The Black Student). In 1939, he and his wife Suzanne moved back to Martinique, where he taught school, and they founded a literary magazine devoted to Martinican writers called Tropiques. In 1945, Césaire, a Communist, was elected mayor of Fort-de-France, Martinique. He later served in the French National Assembly for Martinique and as President of the Regional Council of Martinique. He retired from politics in 2001 and died from a heart attack in 2008.

Césaire’s works are political, and are particularly concerned with postcolonial issues of identity, especially for those who, like him, were negotiating the intersections of African, Caribbean, and French cultures. He helped to establish the movement in literature and politics called Negritude, which celebrated black history and culture. His works blend surrealist techniques with polemical messages. His greatest works are considered to be Cahier d’un retour au pays natal (first published in Spanish 1942; original French version, translated as Memorandum on My Martinique, 1947) and a dramatic trilogy that also explores postcolonial themes: La Tragédie du roi Christophe (published 1963, produced 1964; translated as The Tragedy of King Christophe, 1970), Une Saison au Congo (published 1965; translated as A Season in the Congo, 1968; produced 1976), and Une Tempête (published and produced 1969; translated as A Tempest, 1985).

Consider while reading:

  1. In “Notebook of a Return to the Native Land” and “The Woman and the Flame,” what examples do you see of Cesaire’s criticism of the impact of French colonialism on Martinique?
  2. How would you characterize the speaker in “The Woman and the Flame”? What is his attitude toward the woman?
  3. The excerpt from “Notebook of a Return to the Native Land” includes almost a catalog of images; how would you describe or characterize the images the poet uses? What overall tone do they establish?

Written by Anita Turlington


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