Aimé Césaire: From 'Ferrements,' 'Tombeau de Paul Eluard' (1960)

Translation from French by A. James Arnold and Clayton Eshleman


Blazon of blows on the shattered body of dreams

                         first snowy morning


very amorphous when all lights out

the landscapes collapse

onto the most distant sandbanks

the sirens of lightships have been sounding two nights

                          Paul ELUARD has died


you who were the lay of innocence

who returned science to its origins

standard of the fragile seed stronger

than chance in the struggle of the wind


neither can you lie in

nor have access to earth purer

than these eyelids

                            than these simple people

                            than these tears

in which pushing aside the finest grass of the fog

you stroll quite clear

joining hands

connecting paths

challenging the purple word of the shipwreckers of dawn

perched on the sun


It is however much too gripping to hear you

winding up the great rose window of time

we have never seen you so sharply and so near

as in this effervescence

of the bread of snow that raises when its time has come

in the smoldering utmost depth of the compost of the storm

an abyss of silex


cavalier of men’s eyes for whom gleams

veracious the water hole for grazing on the mirage

gentle severe incorruptible tough

when by degrees you prepared to dismount

to confound by surprise

the death of the impossible and the deed of spring


Captain of the goodness of bread

he passed beneath the skies fighting

with his voice scourged by the inflexible flower of the midday flail


and his step converting into bread

the highlands of the future

with a trembling of monsters vomited through the nostrils insisting that in the left auricle of

each prisoner blaze up

as a single heart

all the dead wood in the world and the singing forest




under your eyelids you never make night having

in order the better to see night and day

thrown into the cross-fire of the cobblestone’s swirls

the false fire driven away by the consecration of gems


Surveyor measurer of the wider horizon

lookout beneath a fire’s cellars beneath blowholes

on grey seas greeter of the most subtle flakes


o time thanks to your opulent tongue

at this hour the water shines man like water in the meadows shall shine

behold him toward him whistles the docility of a leafy



Look basilisk


the breaker of gazes today gazes at you

whom an impure evening of ice floes warmed in its fingers like the secret of summer



                what root surprise

                will embrace you this evening

                or the torrent

                                                are you possibly already descending

                 the other  face of the divide

in vain a deafness thickens the non-miraculous vigil

from its pierced eyes the rukh lets loose its birds


o capricorn pack

the words their pulse beat are known to be fabulous

suckled outside of time by an aviary hand the fallen words

gathered the seasons folded rounded like carriage gates


seasons for him wide open




to preserve your body

no climber of rituals

on the jade of your own words may you be laid down in simplicity


conjured by the warmth of triumphant life

in compliance with the operculated mouth of your silence

and the lofty amnesty of seashells


NOTE. This translation is from The Complete Poetry of Aimé Césaire, translated by Arnold and Eshleman, to be published in 2017 by Wesleyan University Press.