Saturday, September 26, 2015

Elegie pour Martin Luther King - translated to English, parts I - III

Qui a dit que j’étais stable dans ma maîtrise, noir sous l’écarlate sous l’or ?
Léopold Sédar Senghor

Léopold Sédar Senghor was a Senegalese poet, writer, and statesman. He became Senegal’s first democratically elected president, a post he held for twenty years. With Aimé Césaire, he co-founded the Négritude movement, to promotes African cultural values. He was a member of the Académie Française, and was awarded honorary doctorates from 37 universities, in addition to other literary honors.

Elégies Majeures was a series of poems published in 1969, with the Elégie pour Martin Luther King being, perhaps, the most significant. This poem was composed after the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968.It makes reference to many African ideas including the founding of St. Louis by the French in Senegal, the Biafran struggle for independence within Nigeria, as well as the Cold War and the American involvement in Vietnam.

Léopold Sédar Senghor, 1906–2001

Elegie pour Martin Luther King - translated to English, parts I - III


Who said that I was steady in my majesty, black under scarlet under gold.
Who said, like the master of the sledge and the hammer,
Master of the dum-dum and tom-tom.
Drum major of the dance, with my baton.
I commanded the Red Forces, better than the tenders of the camels on their long march.
They yield, so supple, and as the wind falls and the rain nurtures.

Who said, who said in this century of hatred and the atom.
When all power is a speck of dust, all force weakened like the Super-Powers.
They tremble at night, over their grand silos of bombs and tombs, when
At the horizon of a new season, I search in the fever of a sterile storm.
A blood feud, but that said, who said,
Flanked by drums, beside the orchestra eyes believing and mouth thirsting (white)
And seeming like the innocent of the village,
I see a vision, I hear the way and the instrument
But words like a herd of confused Cape Buffalo, banging themselves against my teeth
And my voice opens in the emptiness
Quiet the last chord

I (should) divide into nothingness, everything relearned in this tongue
So strange and multiplied,
To face with my smooth lance to confront the monster
The lioness, manatee, siren and serpent in the labyrinth of the abyss
At the edge of the choir, the first step, the first breath through the leaves of my backbone
I have lost my edge, speechless (cat got my tongue), still I am strong in the shaking
And you speak of my happiness,
While, I cry Martin Luther King


This night, this bright sleepless night, I remember all those yesterdays, I recall a year.
It was the eighth day, the eighth year our circumcision
The one hundred and seventy-ninth year of our birth and death, at Saint Louis.
St. Louis St. Louis! I remember it as if were yesterday and the day before, such a year
(At the center of the world) In the Metropolis Center, at the prow of the western tip of Africa combating
The law a bitter thing. On the long wide path and as if to victory
Flags of red and gold, the banners of hope fluttering, splendid in the sun.
In this the breath of joy, a people innumerable and black celebrating its triumph
In the stadiums of the spoken word, taking its seat again and regaining its ancient presence.
It was yesterday in St. Louis at the Celebration, and among Linguères and Signares
Young female camels, with robes open over their long legs
Among the lofty hairstyles, among the brilliance of teeth, a flourish of laughter and drink.
I recalled, I felt a heaviness on my shoulders, in my heart, acknowledgements from the past
I looked, I saw the withered and tired dresses of the smiling Signares and Linguères.
I see their laughter defeated, and the teeth now veiled, by lips like blue black clouds.
I remember Martin Luther King asleep, a red rose at his throat
And I feel what is left in the marrow of my bones, the voices and tears,
A sigh of “ah”, the deposited blood.
Of four hundred years, four hundred million eyes, two hundred million hearts, two hundred million mouths, and two hundred million dead,
Unnecessary; I feel today, my People, I feel
That on the Fourth of April you are twice defeated, murdered, when Martin Luther King died.
Oh my Linguères, Signares, my beautiful giraffes, to me what is important are your
handkerchiefs and your robes (muslins)
Your pins and fobs (fobines???), to me I care that your singing glorifies:


Ah, Signares light your lanterns, Linguères rip out your hair (wigs)
Servants and you militants, my daughters, whether you are the lowest of the earth,
Close and let fall your robes.
There is only one way your ankles???: all women are noble
That which nourishes the people with their well-bred (smoothe) hands and their rhythmic chants.
For the fear of God, but God has already hit us with his left a terrible blow
For Africa more severely than other 1ES???, and Senegal like Africa
In thousand nine hundred sixty-eight!


This is the third year, the third plague, like long ago in our homeland Egypt.
Last year, oh Lord, you never were you so angry since the Great Famine
And Martin Luther King was not there to sing of your spital and appease it.
There in heaven brief days filled with ashes, days of silence, the earth grey.
From the point of the Almadies and even to the foothills of Fongolimbi
To the sea in flames at Mozambique, to Cape Despair
I say the bush is red, the fields white, and the forests boxes of matches
Which crackling. Like grand tides of nausea, you recalled the hunger from the depths of our memories.
Here are our lips without oil holes and cracked, it is under
The cold-dry dusty wind of Harmattan, the backwater ghetto of Poto-Poto .
The sap is dried at its source, the tanks in wonder, sounding
From the lips like buds, the sap does not rise to chant the joy of Easter

But there is the faint call of the sparrow (swi-manga) above the flowers whose leaves are gone
and bees are deadly.
God is an earthquake, a tornado without rain, roaring like the lion of Ethiopia in his day of wrath.
Volcanoes have sprung in the garden of Eden, for three miles kilometers,
Like fireworks at the feast of the fish
At the fires of Zeboim to Sodom and Gomorrah, volcanoes burned the lakes
And savannas. And the sickness, along with the herds and the people
Because we did not help, we did not cry
Martin Luther King.
I say no, it is no longer the kapos, the garotte, the canon, and quicklime,
The crushed peppers and melted bacon, the bag, the hammock, the mish-mash,
Buttocks to the warmth of the fire, these are no longer the beef nerve???and powder of the arse???
Castration, amputation, and crucifixion - you can slice them up delicately,
you can cleverly cook the heart in a small fire
It is the postcolonial war, of festering boils, pity abolishes all code of honor
War where the Super-Powers napalm by proxy.
In the hell of gas and oil, lie wet two and a half million bodies
Consumed not by a soothing flame
Nigeria wiped off the sphere, as Nigritia seven times but seven times seventy years.
Nigeria falls on the Lord, and Nigritia,
The voice of Martin Luther King!