The Restoration of “Solar Throat Slashed”

By Geoff Wisner

Image of The Restoration of “Solar Throat Slashed”

Notebook of a Return to the Native Land, the best-known work of the Martinican poet Aimé Césaire, appeared in book form in 1947. A year later Césaire published Soleil cou coupé, an extraordinary collection of seventy-two poems. In this book, writes A. James Arnold in the introduction to Solar Throat Slashed, “the modernist poetry Césaire had practiced throughout the 1940s … reached its full fruition.”

Thirteen years later Césaire absorbed the poems from Soleil cou coupé into his new collection Cadastre (meaning “land registry”). In the process, he cut thirty-one poems and edited another twenty-nine, sometimes severely. As a result, says Arnold, the achievement of the earlier book was “substantially obliterated.”

In order to realign his collection with a political position consonant with the immediate postcolonial period, especially with regard to African independence, Césaire simply dropped the great majority of the poems that are permeated by magical, religious, and sexual imagery.

In Solar Throat Slashed, published in 2011, Arnold and poet Clayton Eshleman restore and translate the original 1948 collection. The “apparently wild and free associative imagery” of these poems is still fresh and startling.

In “Delicacy of a Mummy”—one of the thirty-one poems eliminated by Césaire—the poet draws on a mythic vision of ancient Egypt and apparently (as he does in the poem “Calm”) to the practice of “air burial.”  

Delicacy of a Mummy

I embalmed my severed head in a very thin skin
whose power of absorption would need to be calculated
worms? thread? swaddling clothes? At the other end ice floes or angels
Look I am so smooth you would think nobody had ever looked at me
of course I escaped the dogs
was that for nought
there are sirens that sound the call of cities
men who do not wait for the sappers of nothingness
and bewildered priests who laugh quietly
Astrologers
all your moderation is in my immoderation
                                in pyramidal cubits
                                in the capacity of weeping of breathing
and the cavern that the heaviness of my steps sketches is always facing every
pole star
No goodbye (hispid is my tongue)
a great bird is seated at my bedside it deigned to reverse for me the phrase
and the horrible so distant feast
my well-stowed gesture
minute lapse of parallax
the earth like a block of ice in urine breaks up
and from the innocent drift of its echo nourishes a beryl


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