Three Songs from Senegal

Stanzas from D’Autres Chants …

in Éthiopiques, poèmes
(Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1956)

by
Léopold Sédar Senghor

(pour khalam)

Je ne sais en quels temps  c’était, je confonds toujours l’enfance et l’Eden
Comme je mêle la Mort et la Vie—un pont de douceur les relie.

Or je revenais de Fa’oye, m’étant abreuvé à la tombe solennelle
Comme les lamantins s’abreuvent à la fontaine de Simal.
Or je revenais de Fa’oye, et l’horreur était au zénith
Et c’était l’huere où l’on voit les Esprits, quand le lumière est transparente
Et il fallait s’écarter des sentiers, pour éviter leur main fraternelle et mortelle.
L’âme d’un village battait à l’horizon. Etait-ce des vivants ou des Morts?

«Puisse mon poème de paix ètre l’eau calme sur tes pieds et ton visage
«Et que l’ombre de notre cour soit fraîche à ton cœur», me dit-elle.
Ses mains polies me revètirent d’un pagne de soie et d’estime
Son discours me charma de tout mets délectable—douceur de lait de la mi-nuit.
Et son sourire était plus mélodieux que le khalam de son dyâli.
L’étoile du matin vint s’asseoir parmi nous, et nous pleurâmes délicieusement.
—Ma sœur exquise, garde done ces grains d’or, qu’ils chantent l’éclat sombre de ta gorge.
Ils étaient pour ma fiancée belle, et je n’avais pas de fiancée.
—Mon frère élu, dis-moi ton nom. Il doit résonner haut comme un sorong
Rutiler comme le sabre au soleil. Oh! chante seulement ton nom.
Mon cœur est un coffret de bois précieux, ma tète un vieux parchemin de Djenné.
Chante seulement ton lignage, que ma mémoire te réponde.

Je ne sais en quels temps c’était, je confonds toujours présent et passé
Comme je mêle la Mort et la Vie—un pont de douceur les relie.

(pour khalam)

Si je pouvais haler son cœur, tel pêcheur sur la plage plane
Si je pouvais haler son cœur par le cordon ombilical.

Long mais long ce regret à la Porte du Sud—ne donnez pas à ma fierté.
Quand exulter aux cris métalliques de merles, aux pieds grondants dans les nuages?

Je suis le marigot au long de la saison. Pas une palombe n’y boit l’amour.
C’est la sapotille tépide que ronge le ver de l’absence.

Simplement saluer mon nom sur l’aile blanche de la mouette
Et je calme d’une main d’ambre le grand piaffant de ma poitrine.

(pour flûtes et balafong)

Absente absent, ô doublement absente sur la sécheresse glacée
Sur l’éphémère glacis du papier, sur l’or blanc des sables où seul pousse l’élyme.
Absents absents et tes yeux sagittaires traversant les horizons de mica
Les verts horizons de mirages, et tes yeux migrateurs de tes aïeux lointains.
Déjà le pan de laine sur l’épaule aiguë, comme la lance qui défie la fauve
Déjà le cimier bleu sur quoi se brisent les javelines de mon amour,

Écoute ton sang qui bat son tam-tam dans test tempes rythmiques lancinantes
Oh! écoute—et tu es très loin par-dalà les dunes vineuses
Ecoute les jeux qui frémissent, quand bondit rouge ta panthère
Mais écoute les mains sonores, comme les vagues sur la plage.
Ne te retient plus l’aimant de mes yeux plus fort que le chant des Sirènes?
Ah! plus le chant de l’Élancé? dis comme un feu de brousse la voix de l’Amant?

Absent absent, ó doublement absent ton profil qui ombre les Pyramides.

Translated as “Other Songs”

in Léopold Sédar Senghor, The Complete Poetry
(Charlottesville, Va: University Press of Virginia, 1991)

by Melvin Dixon

(for khalam)

I do not know what age it was, I always confuse childhood and Eden
Just as I mingle Death and Life—a tender bridge joins them.

Once I was returning from Fa’oye, having drunk deeply at the solemn
Tomb like sea cows drink at the Simal springs.
I was returning from Fa’oye, and the horror was at its peak,
It was the hour when Spirits could be seen, when the light was clear
And one had to shun the footpaths to avoid being touched
By brotherly and deathly hands. The village’s soul was beating
At the horizon. Were they the living or the Dead?

She said to me, “May my poem of peace be a calm water on your feet
And face and may the shade of our courtyard cool your heart.”
Her kind hands dressed me in a pagne of silk and esteem.
Her speech charmed me with every delectable meal—
Sweet milk of midnight, and her smile was more musical
Than her dyâli’s khalam. The morning star came
And sat with us, and we wept with pleasure.

—My beautiful sister, hold onto these golden seeds,
Let them praise the dark brightness of your throat.
They were intended for my lovely fiancée, but I have no fiancée.
—My chosen brother, tell me your name. It should resound
Loud like the sorong, shine like a sword in the sun.
Oh, just sing you name. My heart is a coffer of precious wood.
My mind an ancient parchment from Djenne.
Just sing your lineage so my memory may answer.

I do not know what age it was, I always confuse present and past
As I mingle Death and Life—a tender bridge joins them.

(for khalam)

If I could pull in her heart like a fisherman on a flat beach,
If I could pull in her heart by the umbilical cord.

Long, so long this sorrow at the South Gate—
Do not give in to my pride. When can I rejoice in the metallic cries
Of thrushes, in the grumbling feet up in the clouds?
I am the seasonal swamp. Not even a ringdove comes to drink love there.
The worm of absence nibbles the tepid sapodilla.

Just by greeting my name on the white wings of the gull,
I can soothe with an amber hand the great pounding in my chest.

(for flute and balaphon)

Gone, gone, O twice missing from this freezing dryness,
From the paper’s glaze, from the golden whiteness of the sands
Where only wild rye grows.
Gone, gone, and your Sagittarian eyes crossing the mica horizons,
The green horizons of mirages, and your eyes
Wander back to your ancient forefathers.
Already the wood flap on your pointed shoulder,
Like the spear defying the beast, already the blue shield
That breaks my love’s javelins.

Listen to your blood beating its drum in your throbbing temples
Oh! listen—and you are far way, beyond the vintage dunes
Listen to the trembling games when your blood pounces like a panther.
Oh, listen to the sound of hands clapping like waves upon the shore.
Do you still attract the magnet of my eyes stronger
Than the singing Sirens? Ah! stronger than the Wrestler’s song?
Still speak the Lover’s voice like a brushfire?

Gone, gone, O twice missing is your profile that eclipses
The Pyramids.

Notes

balaphon: percussion instrument similar to xylophone.

Djenne: Large town in Mali, an early entrepôt of Arab trade in West Africa.

dyâli: troubadour.

khalam: four stringed guitar-like instrument, used to accompany elegies.

pagne: loin cloth.

sapodilla: fruit of a slow-growing, long-lived evergreen by the same name.

Sagittarian: Characteristic of secretary bird (Sagittarius serpentarius).

Simal: Bombax tree; a large tree with thick trunk with deciduous leaves shed during the dry season.

sorong: multiple stringed instrument strung along a wooden arm suspended from a hollowed gourd.

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  1. Absolutely beautiful.

    • Marilyn Richardson
    • April 21st, 2018

    So lovely. I did not scroll through, just began reading — aloud to myself after the first few words, and then was pleased to discover there was a translation, and then I saw Melvin Dixon’s name; such a rare soul. I did not know him well, but admired him greatly.

    Thanks for such a sweet surprise.

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