Submitted by Rachel Atkinson on Wednesday, 10/12/2011, at 10:38 AM

In general terms, an epic is a grandiose literary history of a people. This usually includes founding stories, battles, and etiologies. Although the components of these tales may seem absurd at the moment in which they are set and/or created, truly successful epics transcend eras and become accepted in times far removed from their inception points. Oftentimes, myths accompany epics as driving forces or scapegoats for the more extreme aspects of the stories. Epics that survive their inception describe ideologies that are bigger than the epics themselves. All of the great world religions and empires have epic tales, and Cesaire feels that it is time for Martinique to join the ranks of Ancient Rome and Christianity. 

Cesaire insists that the Caribbean peoples will not truly be liberated until their poets establish the culture with an original Caribbean epic. For centuries, the residents of Martinique and other colonized Caribbean islands have been degraded by the ‘anti-epic’ mentality and literature of the colonizers. Thus this epic needs to address what it means to be black in the Caribbean by inventing or reinventing the relationship between blacks and their perception of race. This can all be effectively achieved, he believes, through surrealist approaches. Cesaire believes the epic poet must approach his task as a magician approaches his or her magic tricks.

A. Cesaire: Calling the Magician: A Few Words for a Carribbean Civilization:

“The true manifestation of civilization is myth.”

“Civilization is dying all around the world because myths are dead or dying or being born.”

“I’m calling upon the magician.”

R. Menil: Evidence Concerning the Mind and Its Speed:

“Here are possible these amazing relations which cast us astounded beyond space and time, beyond life’s everyday routine: here is the emotional raptus that some have called the Absolute and we call poetry.”

“The ultimate destiny of poetry is to multiply itself, dialectically, into the bare force of a crowd.”

 R. Menil: Concerning Colonial Exoticism:

“Since, of all peoples, those in the colonies most heavily bear the weight of modern history – let’s say of ‘Western civilization’ – do they not have a greater responsibility than others to reveal the reality of the world?”

“The conquest of autonomy in poetry – which is inseparable from political autonomy – will destroy the duality by which we appear as strange and strangers to ourselves.”

A. Cesaire: Notebook of a Return to the Native Land:

“No, we’ve never been Amazons of the king of Dahomey, nor princes of Ghana with eight hundred camles, nor wise men in Timbuktu under Askia the Great, nor the architects of Djenne, nor Madhis, nor warriors. We don’t feel under our armpits the itch of those who in the old days carried a lance.”

“Grant me the savage faith of the sorcerer, grant my hands power to mold.”

“Make me into the executor of these lofty works.”

“What cautious sorcerer would undo from your ankles the viscous tepidity of mortal rings?”

Tags:  poetry  myth  epic  magician