Return to the Native Land

Typescript of Cahier d’un retour au pays natal, 1939.

Library of the French National Assembly, Ms1825bis.

All rights reserved.

On the advice of Pierre Petitbon, one of his teachers at the Ecole Normale Supérieure, Aimé Césaire submitted Cahier d'un retour au pays natal to Georges Pelorson, director of the review Volontés. This was probably at the beginning of 1939. Won over by the text, Pelorson agreed to publish it in its entirety and asked Césaire to rework some passages, mainly towards the end. It is this version, corrected by Césaire, that is shown here. The text of Cahier d'un retour au pays natal was published for the first time in Number 20 of the review Volontés, in August 1939.

Historical commentary
Begun during a stay in Dalmatia in the summer of 1935 at the house of his Croat friend, Petar Guberina, the writing of Cahier d'un retour au pays natal was completed four years later, in 1939. This long poem in prose and in verse, influenced by surrealism, that went against the tide of classical poetry rules, is in large part the expression of a revolt fanned by the shock felt by the student back in his homeland for the holidays after an absence of five years (between July and September 1936).
Cahier d’un retour au pays natal is a major work in Negro-African literature and is one of the founding texts of the Negritude movement.

Historical interest
The typescript of Cahier d’un retour au pays natal, that was thought to have been lost, is an exceptional document and was acquired by the French National Assembly in 1992 from a bookseller. It was published in 2008 at the time of the poet’s death as a facsimile edition.
It takes us back to the origins of the work and contains many crossed out passages that were never published, significant handwritten additions and changes. He continued to make changes in successive editions, published by Bordas in 1947 then by Présence africaine in 1956. The latter is considered to be the definitive version. Reworking texts was a fundamental characteristic of Césaire’s creative process that applied to all his works.