Reflections on Senghor

This is not in honour of Black History Month, which, like Women’s History Month, we wouldn’t need if the rest of the year weren’t full of White Men’s History months.

I’ve recently discovered the Senegalese poet, scholar and statesman, Léopold Sédar Senghor, who was Senegal’s first president (1960-80) following French colonial rule.

It’s hard to sum up a poet’s style, but what draws me to Senghor’s oeuvre are the rhythms of this work and his metaphors with quirky comparisons. From his ‘Femme Noire’ (translated from French):

Black woman, obscure woman           

Oil that no breath ruffles, calm oil on the flanks of the athlete, on the flanks of the princes of Mali

Gazelle with celestial ties, the beads are stars on the night of your skin.

A more straightforward piece of his writing, which I’m told is learned by every French schoolchild, needs to be read in full (translated from French):

Poème à mon frère blanc

When I was born, I was black;

When I grew up, I was black;

When I’m in the sun, I’m black;

When I’m sick, I’m black;

When I die, I’ll be black…

While you white man,

When you were born, you were pink;

When you grew up, you were white;

When you’re in the sun, you’re red;

When you’re cold, you’re blue;

When you’re scared, you’re green;

When you’re sick, you’re yellow;

When you die, you will be grey…

So, of the two of us,

Who is the man of colour??

Feel free to consider this blog entry as a contributor to Black History Month if you must, but my original intention was to provide an antidote to the bombastic and inarticulate language of the current US president and the current UK prime minister. This is the point when I hark back on a time when some national leaders possessed intellectual curiosity and lyrical expression.

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