Here is another poem from Leopold Senghor, former President of Senegal, who I think was the first African head of state to relinquish power voluntarily. A fine example and also a model for his poetics, all-round humanity and willingness to lay open his sensibilities to the whole world in his poetry.
This is a poem which captures a moment in which a moment, a sensation, in this case the sound of some jazz music coming out of a bar, evokes at the same time the sense of exile, but also a connection with the poet’s homeland. It is a bit like a Proustian involuntary memory moment (madeleine, uneven cobblestones etc.)
From the content it looks like the poem describes a moment and the feelings of Senghor’s life in Paris, before the independence of his country, Senegal, when he returned to become President.
Comme je passais
Léopold Sédar SENGHOR
Comme je passais rue Fontaine,
Un plaintif air de jazz
Est sorti en titubant,
Ébloui par le jour,
Et m’a chuchoté sa confidence
Comme je passais tout devant
La Cabane cubaine.
Un parfum pénétrant de Négresse
Voilà des nuits,
Voilà bien des jours au sommeil absent.
Réveillés en moi les horizons que je croyais défunts.
Et je saute de mon lit tout à coup, comme un buffle
Mufle haut levé, jambes écartées,
Comme un buffle humant, dans le vent
Et la douceur modulée de la flûte polie,
La bonne odeur de l’eau sous les dakhars
Et celle, plus riche de promesses, des moissons mûres
Par les rizières.
The poem describes how, walking down the rue Fontaine in Paris, the poet hears a jazz melody drifting out of a Cuban bar. The tune is plaintive and soft and seems to be aimed directly at the poet as a discreet message delivered as he is passing by. he is alert and alive to any sensation which reminds him of the homeland he loves. The melody seems to be accompanied by the perfume of a black woman, it is sensual and somewhat intoxicating.
The poet thinks of the sleepless days and nights he has spent thinking of the places he has lost. The final part of the poem takes him back to the places in his heart, with the buffalos sniffing the wind, the gentle sound of a flute, the smell of water and the rich perfume of rice ready to harvest in the rice fields.
The poem is a journey back from a place of exile and disorientation back to a place where the poet feels at home, a journey made possible by the chance of hearing a few notes of music coming out of a bar. It is at the same time a poem of alienation and a poem of belonging, and the art of the poet is to link these two ideas and express in a very moving way the experience of someone away from his homeland.
The Poetry Dude