a ghost poem

high noon

I read again with some amusement the 1,600-word email rant by a rather fragile senior scholar from Portugal, everyone cc’ed, doubting my ability to repent for the rest of my life for the arrogance of offering my archival work at the online bazaar while she erected her pulp cathedrals, and I quote: “fait-il un repenti crédible—s’il se repent—pour le reste de sa vie.” Forever the indebted immigrant researcher from the Dominican Republic—predisposed to turn giants into windmills—I laugh all over again. She was right: How can I, or you, honestly repent for outbursts of online scholarship? I am no longer the graduate student she tried to crush, and here I am still, with that sassy tone that drove her nuts, fixing the record. This one is for you, Lillian. Signed, Dr. Alex Gil.

I also witnessed first-hand the gravitational pull that led Pierre Laforgue, a kinder senior scholar from France, to record some harmless inattentions in our recent genetic edition of Césaire’s work,1 despite material evidence to the contrary presented behind the scenes. That evidence inconveniently undermined some hermeneutic arguments he had recorded recently on his short study Les Armes miraculeuses d’Aimé Césaire (essai et dossier) (2009)2, which depended on a very specific sequence of documentary events. Some of these arguments and innatentions made it to his prelude to Les Armes miraculeuses in our edition. That record today understandbly bares the traces of political maneuvers—the silent handshakes of scholarship—to see the project to completion against real odds.

I promised to several parties at the time that I would not promote a correction for a while, for the sake of the project and because Laforgue is an actual, honest-to-god decent fellow. It’s been almost five years now, though, and folks have moved on to the faux-surprises of the Trump era and the nervous promises of call-out culture. I therefore solemnly present to you my patient correction of the record in the form of a divertimento: the tale of the phantom poem, Le Grand Midi.

Les Armes miraculeuses was a lucky accident. Those of us trained in North Atlantic English departments should resist the urge to read it “organically,” in the spirit of the Romantics, or even prefigurally, à la Saint Augustine, and I don’t just mean our attempts to reconcile Et les chiens se taisaient to the smaller poems in the collection.3 As we saw in previous chapters, Césaire worked on several editorial projects during the period 1941-1946, many of them invisible or unrecognizable unless we bracket bibliographic teleology: the idea that fragments only point towards an inherited concrete whole. In some cases they are better thought of as the concrete organs of phantom bodies—a difficult task, since we always find ourselves at the end of a series of reifications, making sense of the textual past hindered by a post-bibliographic moment.

In the case of early Césaire, as we saw in the previous chapter, the textual scene can be characterized as a nebulous playground of contrasting teleologies, rife with possibilities, where “fragments” point in many directions. In this tale, we will follow along one of those roads not taken, a phantom poem called Le Grand Midi, and re-stage Césaire’s nimble efforts to insert pre-existing texts into new environments; but more importantly, to show how these texts, unmoored from absent wholes, remained ambiguous bibliographically,4 allowing Césaire the flexibility to shift whole editorial projects as editorial opportunities arose.

The story of our phantom poem begins with Aimé Césaire’s first published poem on his return from his student years in Paris, the first seed of what will eventually become Les Armes miraculeuses. This first offering comes on the first issue of Tropiques, April 1941, aptly titled “Fragments d’un poème.” The “fragments” will eventually be individuated as “Les pur-sang” in the 1946 collection, but not before undergoing a series of editorial adventures that provide one of the main keys to unlocking the genetic history of Les Armes miraculeuses, and to a certain degree by extension, of Et les chiens se taisaient.

“Fragments,” not fragment, the “poème” of the first issue will be overtly continued in the second issue of Tropiques, July 1941, reprising the title “Fragments d’un poème.”5 This time, what seems to be a subtitle follows on the bottom of the title page: “Le Grand midi (fin).” This wonderfully ambiguous title page prompts us to question the relationship between titles and texts, between fragments and the phantom whole, often elsewhere:

Is “Le Grand Midi” the subtitle of the larger “poème”? That seems to be the implication of the “fin” in parentheses. Is it just the title of this set of “fragments”? This interpretation seems to be justified by the text under that heading in the 1946 collection. Is “Fragments d’un poème” the title of the two texts combined, and “Le Grand Midi” merely a subtitle? Though the tendency of the journal to portion its fare suggests a simple yes, this remains an intriguing possibility, implying the whole is but shards of a poem. At least the table of contents in the front of the issue would have us believe as much, listing the poem as “Fragments d’un poème (fin).”

The bibliographical status of these fragments becomes even more ambiguous a year later, on the occasion of the first editorial collaboration between Breton and Césaire. Even though the “fin” in parentheses might have suggested that a poem in two installments had been completed, a new text appears on the first issue of VVV, “Conquete de l’aube,” with the following note at the end: “(Extraits inédits du Grand Midi).” Another ambiguous decoy. Excerpts from an unpublished work? What is going on?

By now, Tropiques was in its fifth issue, and Césaire had published eight other shorter pieces in its pages. Why then does this extra fragment appear in June, 1942 in New York? Only two letters from the Césaire’s to André Breton survive before this date. The first of these, the letter by Suzanne Césaire dated October 21, 1941, is the only one to mention the inclusion of an attachment. It seems Breton had proposed to publish some of Aimé’s work prior to this letter, news which didn’t fail to have their effect on the young couple. “Vous devinez sans peine l’émotion d’Aimé à l’idée d’être publié par vous. Il s’en remet entièrement à vous pour tout ce qui concerne la publication. Il joint à cette lettre des poèmes inédits.6 This letter was sent just before issue N°3 of Tropiques came out.

After a six-month pause, we find another letter, this one from Aimé to Breton, dated April 20, 1942. This letter also seems to follow on the heels of one from Breton. At least during this period of their friendship and collaboration, the evidence suggests Breton was making the initial overtures. Césaire is embarrassed for his long silence and thanks Breton for the poem “Lanterne Sourde,” which arrives just in time to be published in Tropiques N°5.7 At this point, Césaire reveals he is quite conscious of the prospect of internationalization: “Que vous ayez connu, aimé, chanté ce pays, que Mabille fasse des recherches en Haïti, que Lam soit à Cuba, événements que je crois décisifs, en tout état de cause, pour l’avenir des Antilles.”8 This level of awareness of the regional implications of collaboration goes hand in hand with the journal’s strategy to edit on a hemispheric scale we saw in Chapter 3. We should note in passing too the distinction that never seemed to trouble Césaire: while Tropiques championed surrealism as methodology, surrealism will champion the tropics as theme.

The letter also lets us know that Breton has asked Césaire for more poems, this time for the revival of the journal Minotaure (no mention of VVV yet). Césaire responds that he has no texts ready. This means the text of “Conquête de l’Aube,” which appears in the first issue of VVV, most likely came with the batch of poems sent earlier with the October, 1941 letter. This places the “extraits inédits du Grand Midi” at the time of the publication of Tropiques N°3. If Césaire had concluded Le Grand Midi9 for a Martinique audience in N°2, it seems that for the benefit of Breton (and his circle) he portrayed a longer poem in progress. By taking advantage of the discontinuous audiences, Césaire effectively extends the genetic life of the poem without appearing inconsistent. This astute use of non-overlapping audiences explains why it took readers and researchers decades to start noticing the enormous disparities found in the different editions of his major works.10

That the “fragments” were considered to be part of a larger unity for his immediate audience can be gleaned from the first critical article dedicated solely to Césaire, written by his brother-in-law, Aristide Maugée, for Tropiques N°5: “Aimé Césaire, poète.” In the article, Maugée makes constant reference to a poem, “Le Grand Midi,” by quoting freely from both of the “Fragments d’un poème” (16). Since we know that Césaire was involved in all aspects of the edition of Tropiques, this misnomer would have not gone unnoticed, especially on the first article published about his writing.

The story thus far largely aligns with the scholarly consensus. Even as early as 1981, Thomas Hale acknowledged the unity of these three fragments in his now classic bibliography11 (231). We arrive on murkier waters when we seek the next chapter in the history of Le Grand Midi.

A few years ago, what was then atelierandrebreton.com12 made available, among many other invaluable documents, a series of digital facsimiles of Césaire manuscripts that were part of the Breton archive before the latter was auctioned off in 450 lots in 2003. Part of the collection of images can now be found at andrebreton.fr,13 a sad replica of the proximity these materials enjoyed before the act of fetishistic banality that scattered them to the four winds. On the site we can find a few manuscripts, letters and signed copies of Césaire’s works.

The three most important items in the erstwhile Breton collection, are a collage, titled Tombeau du Soleil14, a typescript transcription of the collage with Césaire’s corrections and a typescript collection of small poems, Colombes et Menfenils15 , all containing a large portion of the 1946 edition of Les Armes miraculeuses. The editors of the web archive, who excluded the transcription as far as I can see, have assigned all these documents to the year 1945. Furthermore, the two documents entitled Tombeau du soleil were bundled at some point—either by Breton or by a curator—with an envelope dated “24 août 1945”16. This date has been accepted unquestioned by scholars, and is the main source of Laforgue’s erroneous chronology.

At least for the collage, the bibliographic, historical and textual evidence suggests another range of dates: November 1943 to January 1944. The first salient indication that 1945 is two years too late is the fact that most of the content of the two texts, Colombes et menfenils and Tombeau du soleil, is compiled from materials that have been accounted with cetainty before October of 1943 and in contrast, “Avis de tirs,” “L’Irrémédiable,” “Phrase,” “Les Armes miraculeuses,” and most of the other poems of Les Armes miraculeuses that have been accounted after October 1943 are absent. The exception consists of a few short fragments discussed below.

In the next few letters after the original offer from Breton to edit Césaire’s poems, the latter will send a few small offerings. We already saw that a small batch left with the first letter, including “Conquête de l’aube.” The third letter in the surviving series, dated January 10, 1943, comes with “5 poèmes.” A set of five poems belonging to this period have been accounted for in the Breton collection, under the redundant title “5 poèmes”: “Annonciation,” “Tam-tam I,” “Tam-tam II,” “Légende” and “Tendresse.” The first three of these were reprised soon after in the next issue of VVV, N°2-3, under the generic heading “Poèmes.” Months later, we learn that an intervening letter, purportedly sent October 25, 1942, and eventually returned to Césaire, included an original version of the poem “Simouns” (Letter 22 Sep. 1943). This would have brought the total of small dispatches to three by early 1943.

From January until August, we find a long respite in the correspondence. The next letter is sent in early August, again prompted by a letter from Breton: “Joie de vous retrouver,” writes Césaire. “Seul, le régime que nous avons subi ici pendant trois ans explique la rareté et l’insignifiance de nos lettres […](depuis VVV n° 1, rien, rien, ni le catalogue annoncé, ni VVV n° 2, ni le numéro 3, ni livres ni journaux)17 (Letter 3 Aug. 1943). In his letter, Breton seems to have offered for the second time to publish Césaire’s poems. Césaire responds with gratitude and promises to organize a set soon: “merci pour l’offre que vous me faites d’éditer mes poèmes – je tâcherai de les réunir au plus vite.18 Although Césaire does not reiterate the conditions originally proposed by Breton, his response suggests that we are, at the very least, talking about a small collection.

The correspondence intensifies at this point. Soon thereafter, in September, a letter includes an unnamed poem19 and the text of “Simouns” that was supposedly returned with the letter of October 1942 (Letter 22 Sep. 1943). This is also the letter where Césaire announces that he has just finished a “drame nègre.” “Batouque” and “Simouns,” the last texts in the two maquettes, added to the pre-publication of “Soleil serpent” in Leitmotiv N°2-3 under the title “Colombes bruissement du sang…,” bring the pre-October tally to a close.

From the first column on the left, representing the first published “Fragments” in Tropiques N°1, to the furthermost right column, representing Les Armes miraculeuses, [REVISE: Appendix III] schematizes the textual field opened up by the collage of Tombeau du soleil (at the center), both before and after 1943. As the figure makes clear and except for a few exceptions, all of the content of Tombeau du soleil is accounted for before October 1943. Notice also that the sequences in Tombeau du soleil are organized, also with few exceptions, by the order in which they appear first in the chronology, suggesting that order of publication and creation had much to do with the arrangement of the poems in the set.

[Appendix III] is an example of what I would call a temporal legogram. Allowing us to reconstruct the transmission history of blocks of text, or legos, and traditional bibliographic units together, these geometric visualizations offer suitable representations of textual fields.20 Because they collapse the distinction between published and non-published, between wholes and parts, between real and implied texts, and because they establish a temporal, yet non-hierarchical, network of relations, they are closer to the reality of textual transmission than traditional stemmas. In the next chapter, I explore the logics of legograms in more detail by focusing on differential legograms, the comparison of only two “scrolls,” but the insights gleaned in that chapter apply directly to the comparison of an n number of them, as in [Appendix III].

In the next letter in the archive, dated November 16, 1943, Césaire sends several copies of Tropiques N°8-9, which includes Suzanne Césaire’s article “Le Surrealisme et nous.” More to the point, Césaire promises to finally send a parcel with a large batch of poems and a drama.Je vous enverrai bientôt par paquet-poste les manuscrits d’un recueil possible de poèmes ainsi qu’un drame : Et les chiens se taisaient.”21 This is the largest gathering that Césaire has offered so far. At last he has fulfilled his promise to send a collection of texts. The larger package can be explained in part by the regained flow of correspondence in post-Vichy Martinique. In the next letter, January 17, 1944, we confirm that the package was indeed sent. Césaire adds “un poème (à joindre aux poèmes déjà expédiés)” and “quelques pages supplémentaires pour : « Et les chiens se taisaient ».”22 What happens next indicates that the collection of poems sent to Breton was indeed what we now distinguish as Tombeau du soleil and Colombes et menfenils.


As we saw in Chapter 1, sometime around 1943, Breton started collaborating with Yvan Goll on a special issue on the tropics of the latter’s journal, Hémisphères.23 Breton and Goll had each become friends with a major Caribbean poet, Aimé Césaire and Nicolás Guillén to be precise, and each had some sort of revelatory experience while in transit there, the one in Martinique, the other in Cuba. Issue N°2-3 of Hémisphères testifies to the following ratio in the index:

Breton : Césaire : Martinique :: Goll : Guillén : Cuba

Published on April 1944, the entry from Césaire, which follows Breton’s famous “Préface” to the Cahier d’un retour au pays natal, corresponds to the first poem of the Tombeau du soleil series, i.e. a shortened version of the first “Fragments d’un poème.” On the collage we find a title has been added in pencil to the Tropiques text, “les pur-sang [du soleil?]”, only to be corrected in ink to “les purs-sang.”24 The Hémisphères poem will carry the corrected title. This version of “Les pur-sang,” though, is not the one we are familiar with today. In both versions of Tombeau du soleil and in Hémisphères, the poem ends abruptly at the line, “aux caroncules crève, la patte levée, le monde…

If the text indeed dates from 1945, as the envelop claims, this means Césaire decided to adopt an abrupt cut in honor of Goll’s editorial choice in Hémisphères, while still working on the base text of 1941. Unless we would make a misguided appeal to Césaire’s celebrated sense of humor, this scenario seems highly unlikely. I follow here instead a rather banal guideline: when an authorial manuscript and an edited publication coincide for the most part, the former almost certainly precedes the latter. To deviate from such common sense is advisable only with the most compelling evidence in hand. An envelope? Not enough.

If we look at the few variations between the collage version (literally pasted from a copy of Tropiques N°1 with a few corrections in pencil) and the Hémisphères version, we notice that the minor differences are editorial in nature. Here we use the word editorial to mean that the corrections were those that are amenable to an editor: orthography, regularization, etc. During this highly volatile period in Césaire’s poetic practice, a difference of more than one year would have yielded much more than these cosmetic variations. Why this text evinces the smallest relative variation when we compare it to other pairings in the surviving corpus between 1941 and 1946 can best be explained by temporal proximity and the intervention of a non-intrusive editor or transcriber.

The seven handwritten poetic fragments that follow the recycled first half of “Fragments d’un poème” seem out of place at first in the collage. They are handwritten on a different kind of paper and then pasted in what seems to be the framing paper of the collage. The small texts are a mix of new and old texts. The 2nd, entitled “Investiture,” will appear as an independent poem in the 1946 collection. The 3rd, 4th and 5th have no connections to the pre-1944 record, nor the published version. The 6th and 8th are mutilations from the poem “Histoire de Vivre” in Tropiques N°4. The 7th comes from the manuscript “5 poèmes,” where it is titled “Tendresse” and eventually will be integrated in the published version of “Les pur-sang.” All of them will resurface, in the same order and with hardly any variation, in a typescript found at the Goll archives in Saint-Dié des Vosges.

The 7th fragment provides some helpful clues. The transcription we find in Saint Dié was typed by a very careless hand. Unlike other surviving Césaire typescripts, a major error is corrected by retyping the line below. Unlike other surviving Césaire typescripts, this one does not have any handwritten corrections. Considering no circumstantial evidence suggests otherwise, in all likelihood the Saint Dié transcription does not come from Césaire.

Does the collage of Tombeau du soleil provide the original for the Saint Dié transcription? The textual evidence seems to indicate that the Tombeau text of the 7th fragment is an intermediate state between the manuscript of “Tendresse” and the Saint-Dié transcription: the variations between “Tendresse” and Tombeau and between Tombeau and Saint-Dié both overlap, but not between “Tendresse” and Saint-Dié. For example, both versions of Tombeau du Soleil and “Tendresse” have “de sang bien frais,” and Saint-Dié has “du sang bien frais”; Saint-Dié and Tombeau have “aux yeux des fleurs,” while “Tendresse” has “aux yeux de fleur.” The transition from “Histoire de vivre” to Saint Dié provides us also with one such instance: “nénuphar,” shared between Tombeau and “Histoire de vivre” becomes “nénuphars” in the Saint-Dié transcription.25

We now have two sets of texts that arrived on Goll’s desk sometime during the early months of 1944,26 both of which follow the same sequence as we find in the Tombeau du soleil papers. It seems unlikely that texts this similar reached Goll in this precise order in a separate manuscript that has now disappeared. Why assume their existence when we already have a perfectly good match—save for a date on a website or a mismatched envelope? If we didn’t have Tombeau du soleil already, we would have to invent it.

In a letter from Goll to Breton, dated July 22, 1944, Goll expresses regret over the choice of “Les pur-sang.” He suggests that in the next issue of Hémisphères, he will atone with a series of smaller poems. He indeed does. The poems published in Hémisphères N°4, “Au dela,” “Survie,” “Poème pour l’aube,” “Soleil Serpent,” “Tam-tam de nuit” and “Femme d’eau” coincide with the shorter poems in Colombes et menfenils with only three exceptions.27 The poems are published in exactly the same sequence as they appear on the typescript—once more, the sequence of the papers is respected. Furthermore, they are all published under the umbrella title, “Colombes et menfenils.” Now we have three sets of texts that coincide with the manuscripts, sequence and content. All together these texts bear the least number of changes in all of the genetic history of Les Armes miraculeuses. Given the evidence we can be certain that Tombeau du soleil and Colombes et menfenils date to the months between November 1943 and January of 1944.

Colombes et menfenils is very different materially than the collage of Tombeau du soleil. Its pages are typewritten, though, in what seems to be a similar paper to some of the paper used for the Saint-Dié typescript of Et les chiens se taisaient.28 The shared materials between these two suggest a similar temporal proximity. The collection gathers a large number of the small poems published before the end of 1943 in Tropiques, the short poem published in Chile, “Colombes bruissement du sang…,” and the slightly longer pieces, “Simouns” and “Batouque.” As in Tombeau the sequence of poems more or less follows the chronological sequence in which they become visible to us in the archive. Ergo, etc.

And all of that over-the-top, receipt-full correction of the record because…

Agreeing on an original date for the two sets can help us shed light on the phantom poem, Le Grand Midi. The texts under the heading Tombeau du soleil include all three previously published texts we linked to the umbrella title Le Grand Midi: The two “Fragments d’un poème” and “Conquête de l’aube.” The first two “Fragments” have now been cut and pasted, literally, to produce a different sequence. The seven new, smaller fragments have intervened in the middle. The second “Fragments” is not the “(fin)” anymore and its first few lines have now been separated and remixed with the first “Fragments” in a section subtitled “Calcination.” “Conquête de l’aube,” which in the last page is given solely by title and the reference “cf VVV N°1” (Figure 2.D), has now become the finale for the sequence. Combined, we have a remix of the three main building blocks of Le Grand Midi, with a few small additions and deletions.

In a letter dated May 26, 1944, Césaire will once again refer to these texts as Le Grand Midi. The Césaires are experiencing difficult times. They have recently arrived in Haiti for an extended stay. Some suggestive lines in the correspondence suggest that their marriage has been under some strain during the past few months. In the May 26 letter, an anguished Césaire claims that the poem has spoken to him in the style of an oracle at a moment of need: “Nos poèmes sont lucides, nous seuls, sommes aveugles. Je pense à « Batouque », au « Grand midi » surtout, dont une partie a paru, par vos soins, dans Hémisphères29 (Letter 26 May 1944). The “part” he refers to is, of course, the mutilated “Fragments d’un poème,” published in Hémisphères N°2-3 under the title “Les pur-sang.” We do know from a previous letter that Césaire read the issue in question (Letter 4 Apr. 1944). Even at this late date, May 1944, many months after Maugée refers to the whole as “Le Grand Midi,” Césaire continues to do so. We are to assume that Breton also knew what Césaire was referring to. Just in the same way that “Les Armes miraculeuses” will be a poem within the collection Les armes miraculeuses, “Le Grand Midi” seems to have been a mere section of a larger poem, Le Grand Midi.

Césaire continues in his letter to provide Breton with some instructions on how to revise the (larger) poem:

Aussi vous demanderai-je, si jamais le texte doit être publié aux États-Unis, de supprimer toutes les additions artificielles dont j’ai cru devoir l’alourdir : 1°) les sous-titres (à l’exclusion de « Pur-sang », « Grand midi » et « Conquête de l’aube ») qui seront très avantageusement remplacés par des blancs. 2°) le morceau tardivement – encore qu’à mon sens pathétiquement introduit, où se trouve le nom de Suzanne Césaire.30

If I haven’t lost you so far, you should have rightly concluded by now that Le Grand midi is none other than the Tombeau du soleil collage and transcription! The subtitles in question are the new sub-sections constructed out of the two “Fragments” and the header for the handwritten pages: “Calcination,” “Miroir Fertile” and “Investiture.” The “morceau” refers to the handwritten pages with the seven smaller sequences, in particular sequence #6 from “Histoire de vivre,” written on a different kind of paper than the rest in the collage and with the lines: “Fenêtres du marécage, fleurissez ah ! fleurissez/sur le coi de la nuit pour Suzanne Césaire.” What other document can Breton have in his possession which has several subtitles in excess of “Pur-sang,” “Grand midi” and “Conquête de l’aube,” which also has a fragment, “introduced late” (i.e. which stands out), with the name of Suzanne Césaire? This “texte,” the corpse of Le Grand midi, rests on the pages of the two versions of Tombeau du soleil.

This brings us to the question of the title. Why do we call this document today Tombeau du soleil? The title is written at the beginning of the collage, right before the section with the subtitle “Les pur-sang” with a hand that does not seem to belong to Suzanne Césaire, Aimé Césaire or André Breton. On the transcription, the title is typewritten on a title page, and crossed out with pen. On the second page, the title is written again by a hand that seems to belong to Suzanne Césaire.31 Considering that Césaire thought of the set as Le Grand Midi, and that the title is stamped by an unknown hand on the collage, I venture to say that the title was added after the collage was well advanced, even perhaps, after it was completed.

Colombes et Menfenils bears the title in the front of the typescript in type consistent with the rest of the leaves, and thus it can be said to date to the time of creation; Tombeau on the other hand, constantly referred to as Le Grand Midi by those in the know—whether the whole makes “poetical” sense or not—most likely did not have the current title in the early stages of composition. If we could date the transcription more accurately, we would have a more definitive answer. Alas, the material and historical evidence is inconclusive. The only thing we know with certainty is that the transcription was made after the collage was assembled.

The possibility remains that the transcription was included, after all, with the envelope from August 1945, while the collage was sent 2 years before. An early version of the “inventaire” listing the two versions of Tombeau du soleil, suggested that the transcription was the item “dans enveloppe à André Breton, 24 aôut 1945.”32 Although, without close examination of the artifacts, I have no conclusive evidence that the transcription was not in that envelope, the fact that the post-1943 revisions did not make it to the document at least complicates that theory. As far as we know, the transcription could also be coeval with the collage.

Besides the mysterious handwriting, other clues indicate the title was added in medias res. Underneath it, we find the number 10 written in what seems to be the same hand. This number, though, does not correspond to the actual number of sections in the gathering. To wit, the textual segments in the sequence seem to have gone through several reorganizations, judging by the diverging section numbers. Each of the sections or fragments has at least one number assigned to it. Some have several. Table 2.A accounts for all the numerations:

Text > Numeration —————————— ————————————— > Les purs-sang > 1 > Investiture > 2 > “Parce que les jardins…” > 3 > “Parce que mon beau pays…” > 4 > “ô retour…” > 5 > “Mais qui m’a mené ici?” > 6 > “O Chimborazo violent” > 7 > “Et les collines…” > 8 > Calcination > 9 > Miroir Fertile > [5?], 8, 9, 10 > Le Grand Midi > [?], [4?], [5?], 8, 9, 10, 11 > Conquête de l’Aube > 4, 5, 7, 10, 11, 12

Table 2.A

Although we cannot reconstruct the genetic sequence, as we did for example in Chapter 1 with the Saint-Dié typescript of Et les chiens se taisaient using its different pagination schemes, we could reconstruct several hypothetical scenarios, a few of which have 10 sections. The different section numbers also testify that the end was closer to the beginning at some point, or in other words, that the smaller poems in the middle were introduced in at least a few stages through a process of outward expansion. If the title was indeed added during composition, it was probably added when the assemblage had 10 sections.

To make matters more complicated, a search for the word “tombeau” in all of Césaire’s output before 1946 (or in Tropiques for that matter) yields no results.33 Even though a tomb for the sun seems to belong in Césaire’s imaginary, the unexceptional word tombeau is simply not part of his early arsenal until now.

A year before the individuated poem “Le Grand Midi” appears in Les Armes miraculeuses, it appears in the same form in the sixth issue of the journal Confluences on August 1945. The text corresponds to the “Fragments d’un poème” of Tropiques N°2, this time bearing the title, “Le Grand Midi (Fragment).” This suggests that even at this late date, the text had not become an independent unit.

The publication of the poem in Confluences also marks Césaire’s debut in post-war Paris. The poem was preceded by an introductory article to “Aimé Césaire et la revue Tropiques,” signed by “J.M.,” ostensibly the controversial Jules Monnerot —not an insignificant fact. Although the editorial connection could be traced back in theory to Breton, we could as easily trace it directly to Césaire. For instance, issue N°6-7 of Tropiques, February 1943, opened with a moving “In Memoriam” by René Ménil on Jules Monnerot’s father, the important Caribbean man of letters, Jules Monnerot père.

The textual evidence is very clear on the provenance. The text used for Confluences is a reprint of Tropiques N°2, the same text that was cut and pasted in parts for Tombeau du soleil, now whole again. In fact, the editors of Confluences evidently thought it wise to replicate, as much as their materials would allow, the line breaks of the original, hyphens included (Figures 2.B and 2.C). Considering the width of the Confluences page was slightly smaller, these efforts lead to some rather awkward design solutions.

{width=”5.5in” height=”0.7298611111111111in”}

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Figures 2.B and 2.C - Tropiques N°2, p.27 and Confluences N°6, > p.617

The fact that the editors were so careful to reprint the smallest feature of the original raises the question. Why did the title change? Why has “(fin)” been substituted by “(Fragment)”? One possibility consistent with the sequence in Tombeau du soleil is that Césaire, aware of the non-overlapping audiences, and after the addition of “Conquête de l’aube” to the sequence, still reserved the option of a larger poem for a future date, now in a new environment and through other channels. The new title is, of course, just as ambiguous as its predecessors. Is the new “Le Grand Midi” a fragment? or, is it a fragment of Le Grand Midi?

The textual differences between the Tropiques and the Confluences texts consist mostly of corrections and new errors, and tell us nothing about the editorial hands that intervened. A comparison of the Confluences text with the corrected copies of Tombeau du soleil disqualifies the latter as a possible source because its corrections do not carry over. Whether via Breton or Césaire, whether the reprint was authorized or not, a year before Les Armes miraculeuses was published the question of “Le Grand Midi” and Le Grand Midi remained unresolved.

In the same month the Confluences text came out, in a letter dated “22 août 1945,” belonging to the envelope now paired to both versions of Tombeau du soleil, Césaire tells Breton he has “écrit quelques poèmes dont une fin nouvelle pour « Conquête de l’aube ».”34 Indeed, a new version of “Conquête de l’aube” appears in Paris in Les Quatre vents 4: L’Evidence Surréaliste in 1946 (60), with a very different ending than the VVV version. The new text will soon be reprinted in Les Armes miraculeuses.

The collage of Tombeau du soleil actually doesn’t have the text of “Conquête de l’aube.” Instead we find instructions on the final page of the gathering indicating the text should be copied from VVV N°1 (CoVV), with a minor correction (Figure 2.D). The Tombeau transcription (ts.ts) copies the text of CoVV over very closely, even going as far as copying the signature at the end: “Aimé CÉSAIRE/(Extraits inédits du Grand Midi).” The signature is then striken out, suggesting a fastidious or non-French speaking amanuensis typed the document before Césaire revised it. A note below the placeholder indicates the word “frangipane” on p. 40 of CoVV should be corrected to “frangipanier.” The word was corrected in the transcriptions.

We are left with the question: did Césaire send or suggest a new version of “Conquête de l’Aube,” together with a corrected transcription pointing to an old version on the same parcel? Possible, but unlikely. Either way, we can still be certain that the collage of Tombeau du soleil—the closest we get to our phantom poem Le Grand midi—dates to late 1943, not August 1945.

I hope the extended analysis of the trajectory of the phantom poem not only sets the historical record straight, but helps us to better appreciate how ambiguous naming practices afforded Césaire and his editors the flexibility to reshape texts to adapt to non-overlapping environments (New York, Martinique, Paris, et al.) during this period. If we think of a collection of poetry as a three-tiered bibliographical structure, consisting of fragments, poems and the collection itself—all represented in our legogram (Appendix III)—we see that for Césaire, this structure could be collapsed. Le Grand midi is all of these at different stages. In the transformations of Et les chiens se taisaient we will see comparable maneuvers.

> > Figure 2.D - “Conqête de l’aube” placeholder.

In all manifestations of our phantom poem Le Grand Midi, including the collage of Tombeau du soleil, the fragment “Les Pur-sang” comes toward the beginning and the fragment “Le Grand midi,” towards the end. In Tombeau du soleil “Conquête de l’aube” follows “Le Grand midi” only inasmuch as there is an indication on the last page that the poem should be inserted at that point. In the published version of Les Armes miraculeuses, “Les Pur-sang” occupies a position towards the beginning, while “Le Grand midi” occupies a position towards the end. This preserves the scaffolding of the earlier project. In the next chapter we will learn to call this structure an expansion or a split. Here already we can see how the shuffling effect described above necessarily implies at least two expansions.

The earlier collection Colombes et menfenils begins with a series of short poems and purportedly ends with the text of “Batouque.” The poems which begin Colombes et menfenils gravitate towards the first half, while “Batouque” almost ends the poems section in Les Armes miraculeuses. Only two short poems come after it in the collection, “La Femme et le couteau” and “Les Oubliettes de la mer et du déluge” (formerly “Simouns”). In the typescript of Colombes et menfenils “Simouns” precedes “Batouque” only inasmuch as there is an indication to include it on a page before the latter begins. In short, the general structure of the poems section in Les Armes miraculeuses echoes the general structure of Colombes et menfenils. Again, it is almost as if Tombeau du soleil and Colombes et menfenils were shuffled once before the intervening pre-publications were inserted into the deck [REVISE: (Figure 2.E)]

Acknowledging that Césaire was working on a major poem other than the Cahier d’un retour au pays natal while he was working on Et les chiens se taisaient also changes the way we understand the genesis of Les Armes miraculeuses. Our correct date allows us to effectively divide Césaire’s work outside of Tropiques into four editorial projects by the end of 1943: a) An edition of the Cahier d’un retour au pays natal; b) A “recueil possible de poèmes,” including what is now known as Colombes et Menfenils; c) the larger poem in subtitled sections now known as Tombeau du soleil, a.k.a. Le Grand Midi; and, d) Et les chiens se taisaient.35 At one point, (a), (b) and (c) were supposed to coincide. Eventually, an expanded (b), (c) and (d) became what we know today as Les Armes miraculeuses, while (a) was published by itself in two very different editions in 1947, in English and French in New York, and in French in Paris.

The common denominator between these disparate projects: an effort to revise, expand and transform previously existing material, belonging to different editorial environments in order to reach new audiences, each of which envelops the documents in situated readings. At the end of 1943, Césaire was revising the Cahier d’un retour aux pays natal in ways that we have already started to understand better,36 for a collaboration which had already begun between André Breton and Yvan Goll; the two “maquettes,” Tombeau du soleil and Colombes et menfenils also fall on the same track, adapting texts which appeared in Tropiques in shorter, coherent units, to larger, more jarring gatherings, as we saw above.

We find the works today in their particular shape because a new environment afforded the material conditions for adaptation of previous disparate editorial projects into book form. This flux, determined by particular editorial circumstances, will characterize the rest of Césaire’s writing career.

Speaking of editorial circumstances—75 years in the making—here’s my edition of the ghost poem, Le Grand midi. Enjoy!




  3. While the notion of adaptation indeed implies that all texts find some coherence in whatever context they find themselves, we are not limited, in consequence, to traditional organicist readings. Only if we erase the memory of the textual field whence texts arrived at any given context can those readings have any semblance of authority. Having said that, I would not completely ban readings that try to assign a self-identical whole to a decontextualized text, if only because they provide a much better passtime than crossword puzzles. ↩︎

  4. That very same ambiguity also provides an image of textuality where the distinction between fragments and wholes depends solely on our focal point. We must be careful here to distinguish though, between fragments and blocks of text or legos (treated in more detail in the next chapter). I refrained from refering to blocks of texts as fragments precisely to avoid all the critical baggage that the latter carry with them. The fact that Césaire’s proliferation of “Fragments” during this period overlaps with the textual topology I’m trying to describe, does not mean we should confuse the fragment’s generic (Levinson), metaphysical (Blanchot), performative (Elias) operations with the block of text. A block of text can be both a whole and a part; it has a minimum, but not a maximum size; it is independent of genre and does not have a pre-bibliographic function, even if we still insist on addressing it. ↩︎

  5. Lilian Pestre de Almeida suggests that these two poems and the Cahier d’un retour au pays natal form an epic tryptic. She offers no real evidence for this declaration, so we will avoid it in the future. For her comments, see Cahier d’un retour au pays natal, p. 33, and Aimé Césaire. Une saison en Haïti, p. 74. ↩︎

  6. [You can imagine Aimé’s joy at the idea of being published by you. He trusts you entirely with the details of the publication. He sends you a few unpublished poems with this letter.] My emphasis unless noted otherwise. ↩︎

  7. The poem will later be reprinted in Breton’s Martinique charmeuse de serpents along with his other contributions to Tropiques↩︎

  8. [That you have seen, loved, sang this country, that Mabille conducts his research in Haiti, that Lam is in Cuba, all of these are events that I find decisive, in any case, for the future of the Caribbean.] ↩︎

  9. Italicized from this point forward to differentiate the ideal, longer eponym from the smaller sub-section, published in Tropiques N°2 (which would eventually become the poem we know today under that title). ↩︎

  10. Cite Martin Eve ↩︎

  11. This bio-bibliography is now being revised and augmented by Kora Veron Leblé. Her work and her friendship have been an invaluable source for me and this study. ↩︎

  12. According to the Internet Archive, the site atelierbreton.com ran until 2008. http://wayback.archive.org/web/*/atelierandrebreton.com ↩︎

  13. Some images that were present in the former site seem to be missing from the new one, including images for “L’Irrémédiable.” (Bibliothèque littéraire Jacques Doucet, BRT C 456.) All poems in Les Armes miraculeuses have a pre-publication state accounted for. This makes the genetic dossier for Les Armes miraculeuses the most complete of all of Césaire’s works. ↩︎

  14. This document is now in the posession of the private collector Dominique Annicchiarico, a lawyer with offices in Paris and a Césaire enthusiast. ↩︎

  15. This document is now at the bibliothèque Schœlcher in Martinique. ↩︎

  16. The documents and the envelope were sold together to Mr. Annicchiarico as Lot 2265, perpetuating the mistaken date. ↩︎

  17. [So happy to hear from you again. Only the regime weighing on us for three years now can explain the infrequency and insignificance of our letters […] (after VVV N°1, nothing, nothing, not the catalog we heard about, not VVV N°2, nor number 3, no books, no journals.)] ↩︎

  18. [thank you for the offer to publish my poems —I will try to gather them as soon as possible.] Notice that the word éditer in French is a false cognate. ↩︎

  19. In the letter following this one, Césaire asks Breton if he had received the text of “Batouque.” This gives us reason to believe this is the unnamed poem in question. ↩︎

  20. The word legogram derives from the child’s toy to emphasize the modular and mechanical features of textual transmission histories. I am at work now on a series of two-dimensional and three-dimensional legograms representing different dimensions of the transmission process of Césaire’s oeuvre. I should mention that current digital tools allow us to add a geographical dimension to the temporal. Of course, this is very difficult to represent on paper. ↩︎

  21. [I will soon send you a parcel with manuscripts for a possible collection of poems and a drama as well: Et les chiens se taisaient.↩︎

  22. [a poem (to join to those already sent) and some supplementary pages for “Et les chiens se taisaient.”] ↩︎

  23. A letter from Goll to Breton, dated January 18, 1944, confirms that the two had also begun collaborating on the edition of Cahier d’un retour au pays natal, for which the text “Un grand poète noir” by Breton would serve as “Préface.” ↩︎

  24. The original title refers, of course, to the third line of the poem, “les cent purs-sang hennissant du soleil.” ↩︎

  25. One exception to this trend seems to happen with the variation in accidentals in the word “Fenêtre,” spelt “Fenètre” only in “Tombeau.” This obvious error can be safely attributed to Césaire’s hurried handwriting of the circumflex accent, evident in many other instances where we find his pen. ↩︎

  26. I say early months because the precarious friendship between Goll and Breton would not reach June. ↩︎

  27. The missing poems, “Tam-tam I,” “Tam-tam II” and “Annonciation,” were missing for a good reason: They had appeared in VVV N°2-3. These are also technically absent from the typescript of Colombes et Menfenils. A page indicating their relative position in the whole lists the titles and sends the putative editor to see “VVV no2.” ↩︎

  28. An analysis of the paper of ts.Ts will have to wait until I have access to the originals. ↩︎

  29. [Our poems are lucid. We are the blind ones. I’m thinking of “Batouque”, especially “Grand midi,” part of which appeared thanks to you in Hémisphères.↩︎

  30. [I would also ask you, if the text is ever to be published in the United States, to delete the artificial additions which I believe weigh it down: 1) The subtitles (excepting “Pur-sang,”“Grand midi” and “Conquête de l’aube”) which will be advantageously replaced with whitespace. 2) The fragment added at the last minute —which I believe to be a pathetic addition, where you find the name Suzanne Césaire.] That the transcription does not bear these corrections, supports the hypotheses that it pre-dates this letter. ↩︎

  31. The collage and transcription of Tombeau du soleil could be a great source for literary historians interested in the genesis of Césaire’s writings. Regrettably, before we get access to the originals, the images on the andrebreton.fr site and a set of facsimiles provided by the owner are our only source. Many details can be observed from the higher resolution images, including the fact that the collage has several layers, or that some leaves (if not all) were glued on pages written in Spanish. On leave #14, for example, we read the words “del olivo” under an uncovered patch. An examination of the original document would, of course, be invaluable. ↩︎

  32. The copy of the inventory comes via René Hénane, who transcribed it from the old site. ↩︎

  33. I have used my own careful digital transcriptions of Césaire’s writings spanning the years 1935 to 1946 and the complete run of Tropiques, to perform this search. ↩︎

  34. [written a few poems, including a new ending for “Conquête de l’aube”] ↩︎

  35. The possibility that they were sent separately remains, but considering the correspondence does not speak of another large set, coupled with all the arguments we laid out above, leads us to desist from this hypothesis. ↩︎

  36. See my essay “Bridging the Middle Passage: The textual (r)evolution of Césaire’s Cahier d’un retour au pays natal.” Canadian Review of Comparative Literature. 38.1 (March 2011): 40-56; and Arnold, A. James. “Césaire’s ‘Notebook’ as Palimpsest: The Text Before, During, and After World War II.” Research in African Literatures 35.3 (2004): 133–40. ↩︎