Leopold Sedar Senghor: Negritude and Poetry

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Leopold Sedar Senghor
Negritude And Poetry
Early Life
• Senghor was born near Dakar in the town of Joal.
• His mother was Roman Catholic, and sent him to a seminary to fulfill his
first dream of becoming a priest.
• At age 20 he discerned out of the call to the priesthood and transferred to
a secondary school.
• In 1928 he moved to Paris and continued his studies Lycée Louis-le-Grand
and the Sorbonne.
• During these years he discovered the imprint of African culture on modern
culture, and it cemented his belief in Africa’s potential contribution to
modern culture.
• He joined the French army during World War II and spent 18 months in a
German prison camp.
• While he was in the prison camp he wrote some of his best poems.
• Eventually became Senegal’s first democratically elected president, which
he held for the next twenty years.
Negritude
• Negritude is defined as the effort to reclaim a
for Negros a lost sense of pride and
confidence, and discovering a sense of
identity again.
• Senghor is known for being a major
contributor to the Negritude movement.
• His biggest contribution was his poetry.
I Will Pronounce Your Name
• I will pronounce your name, Naett, I will declaim you, Naett!
Naett, your name is mild like cinnamon, it is the fragrance in which
the lemon grove sleeps
Naett, your name is the sugared clarity of blooming coffee trees
And it resembles the savannah, that blossoms forth under the
masculine ardour of the midday sun
Name of dew, fresher than shadows of tamarind,
Fresher even than the short dusk, when the heat of the day is
silenced,
Naett, that is the dry tornado, the hard clap of lightning
Naett, coin of gold, shining coal, you my night, my sun!…
I am you hero, and now I have become your sorcerer, in order to
pronounce your names.
Princess of Elissa, banished from Futa on the fateful day.
I Will Pronounce Your Name
(Continued)
• When looking at this poem, at first it seems that
Senghor is giving praise to a woman named
Naett.
• However, when looked at closer, the Negritude
themes become apparent.
• In line 1, Senghor says “I will declaim you, Naett!”
• To declaim someone means to say their name
theatrically and poetically.
• By saying Naett’s name dreamily, Senghor is
presenting his love for Africa, which was strong
and undisplaced.
I Will Pronounce Your Name
(Continued)
• As Senghor continues his poem, the theme of
Negritude becomes all the more apparent.
• He compares Naett to a number of natural breath
takers, and doesn’t praise the lady herself, but rather
her name.
• In line 2 he likens her name to cinnamon, an aromatic
spice and fragrance.
• Her name is like the savannah in line 4, and at midday
the sun catches it at just the right moment.
• Senghor continues this throughout the poem,
comparing Naett’s name to morning dew (line 5), dusk
(line 6), and a tornado in line 7.
What’s the big deal with the name?
• Names have power, and by invoking Naett’s
name, Senghor is invoking the power of Africa.
• Take into account that he names the woman
“Naett”. Not Sarah, not Julie, not some other
white name, but Naett.
• The name even sounds African, so by giving his
muse an African name, Senghor is setting the
stage for his argument for Negritude.
• By comparing her name to so many different
things, Senghor is exposing the beauty of Africa
for the world to see.
The Last 2 Lines
• The last 2 lines of the poem “I am you hero, and now I have become
your sorcerer, in order to pronounce your names.
Princess of Elissa, banished from Futa on the fateful day.” can be
viewed as Senghor’s start of the Negritude movement, and his
desire to instill a lost confidence back into the African people.
• Line 9 show’s Senghor stepping into the role of a leader, “in order to
pronounce your names.”
• Line 10 can be viewed as the lost identity of the African people, and
Senghor, by using Naett as a symbolf for Africa, is talking about the
many freedoms that were stripped from the Africans during their
time in slavery.
• The entire poem is spent praising Africa because of it’s beauty, but
the last two lines turn the poem into a battle cry, a call to arms to
bring back that lost sense of nationalism that was “banished from
Futa on that fateful day.”
To New York
• With this poem, Senghor seems to be speaking
out against western culture.
• He opens the poem with “At first I was
bewildered by your beauty” which suggests that
he was in the process of being seduced by the
culture and lead away from his heritage.
• The first stanza pretty much sets the tone for the
poem, with the first half talking about how
Senghor was almost reeled in by the western
culture before it is exposed as artificial.
Second Stanza
• The second stanza mixes Senghor’s faith and his
pride in his African heritage.
• In this stanza he talks about Harlem, and the tone
of it is hopeful saying “now is the time of manna
and hyssop” both of which are nods to his
Christian faith signifying purification (hyssop) and
nourishment (manna).
• With this line it seems as though Senghor is
calling for the rebirth of African pride and for
New York to open its eyes to a culture that has
very much to offer.
(Continued)
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“Harlem, Harlem! Now I’ve seen Harlem, Harlem!
A green breeze of corn rising from the pavements
Plowed by the Dan dancers’ bare feet,
Hips rippling like silk and spearhead breasts,
Ballets of water lilies and fabulous masks
And mangoes of love rolling from the low houses
To the feet of police horses.
And along sidewalks I saw streams of white rum
And streams of black milk in the blue haze of cigars.
And at night I saw cotton flowers snow down
From the sky and the angels’ wings and sorcerers’ plumes.
Listen, New York! O listen to your bass male voice,
Your vibrant oboe voice, the muted anguish of your tears
Falling in great clots of blood,
Listen to the distant beating of your nocturnal heart,
The tom-tom’s rhythm and blood, tom-tom blood and tom-tom”
Third Stanza
• The third stanza picks up the tempo, and
Senghor is earnestly imploring New York to
“let black blood flow into your blood.”
• When looked at with the themes of Negritude,
this line does two thing:
• 1: it implores the western culture to be more
accepting of Africans.
• 2: It comes off as a cry to Africans to rise and
find their identity.
Third Stanza (Continued)
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Senghor seeks to make New York aware of just how much of Africa’s culture is held
within it.
He encourages the people to “Let it give your bridges the curve of hips and supple
vines.
Now the ancient age returns, unity is restored,
The reconciliation of the Lion and Bull and Tree
Idea links to action, the ear to the heart, sign to meaning.
See your rivers stirring with musk alligators
And sea cows with mirage eyes. No need to invent the Sirens.
Just open your eyes to the April rainbow
And your eyes, especially your ears, to God
Who in one burst of saxophone laughter
Created heaven and earth in six days,
And on the seventh slept a deep Negro sleep.”
With all of this imagery, Senghor is implanting the thought of Negritude into a
people who were probably very closed off, and rallies his Negro brethren to take
pride in their heritage.
Sources
• http://afrilingual.wordpress.com/2011/04/02/i-will-pronounceyour-name-leopold-sedar-senghor/
• http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/238778
• http://www.monitor.co.ug/artsculture/Reviews/Leopold-SedarSenghor--colossus-of-African-poetry/-/691232/1418188//uhsqeuz/-/index.html
• http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/534541/LeopoldSenghor
• Drake, St. Clair
1972 Hide My Face?: On Pan-Africanism and Negritude. In Soon,
One
Morning: New Writing by American Negroes 1940-1962. Herbert
Hill, ed. Pp.
77–105. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

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