Poem by Patrick Chamoiseau

October 2018

Translated by Jeffrey Landon Allen and Charly Verstraet

(Miniscule History of Literature)

From terror, from fear
From the abyssal rumble of griots and storytellers
From the ink of the one who writes

From the magic of the verb that commands the real
to the blind odysseys that are implemented to see everything and recount everything
From the follies that gallop in the audience of windmills
to the passions that take place in powerful kingdoms
Time’s great entry
into the mysteries of recollection and the cosmos of memory

This is the rage of colonies
The massacres of great wars
These open abyss-worlds that undo utterances
All the way up to the pride of languages which the carving of style no longer supports

Up to the point of disaster when

In the language outside all language
In the moment
This impossible to say
This unthinkable to simply fix
As much as Rabelais and much more than Rimbaud within his burning vowels
In the moment when Faulkner cast off the mooring lines

What is opened
From these ashes that brood
Beneath the story much more than any story
It is the heart of infinite beings
This fall into the world that only leads back to oneself
This language rooted1 in the Letter that at times one inhabits
The incised Letter which makes language among the swell of languages2
Articulated silence

Utterances that resist revelation
Thought in spite of all the riverbanks where it cannot be
This tiny bit that teaches the incertitude of greatness . . .
It all turns into memories of what was and everything opens us yet
It all at last liberates us and ties us to everything.

No ruin therefore in the founding momentum at the heart of origins
Sudden beautiful laugh of the all-possible in the enthusiasm of this journey that is opened
Wandering, of long memory, is kept juvenile all sacred and pagan
The horizon makes images, no door shall be closed.


(Minuscule histoire de la littérature)

Depuis l’effroi, depuis la peur
Depuis la rumeur abyssale des griots et conteurs
Depuis l’encre de celui qui écrit

De la magie du verbe qui ordonne au réel
aux odyssées aveugles qui s’appliquent à tout voir et à tout raconter
Des folies qui galopent dans l’audience des moulins
aux passions qui font scènes dans de puissants royaumes
La haute saisie du temps  
dans les arcanes du souvenir et le cosmos de la mémoire

Voici les furies coloniales  
L’hécatombe des grandes guerres
Ces gouffres-monde ouverts qui défont la parole
Jusqu’à l’orgueil des langues que n’étaye plus la ciselure du style

Juste à ce point de déroute où  

Dans la langue hors toute langue
Dans l’instant
Cet impossible à dire
Cet impensable à simplement fixer
Tout autant que Rabelais et bien plus que Rimbaud en ses voyelles ardentes
Dans l’instant où Faulkner a largué les amarres

Ce qui s’ouvre
Depuis ces cendres qui couvent
En-deçà du récit bien plus que tout récit
C’est le cœur des étants infinis
Cette tombée dans le monde qui ne ramène qu’à soi
Ce langage enchouké dans la Lettre que parfois l’on habite  
La Lettre incise qui fait langage parmi la houle des langues
Silence qui s’articule

La parole qui résiste à la révélation
La pensée malgré tout aux rives où elle ne peut
Cet infime qui enseigne l’incertain des grandeurs . . .
Tout fait souvenir de ce qui fut et tout nous ouvre encore
Tout nous libère enfin et nous relie à tout.

Nulle ruine donc dans l’élan fondateur au cœur des origines
Beau rire soudain du tout-possible dans l’enthousiasme de ce voyage qui s’ouvre.  
L’errance, de mémoire longue, se maintient juvénile toute sacrale et païenne
L’horizon fait images, nulle porte ne se referme.


We would like to warmly thank Patrick Chamoiseau for providing insight into his poem and the sx salon team for their enthusiastic support and editing work on this translation.


Patrick Chamoiseau was born in Fort-de-France, Martinique. His first novel, Chronique des sept misères, was published in 1986, followed by Solibo magnifique in 1988. In 1992, Chamoiseau became internationally acclaimed for his publication of Texaco, which won the prestigious Prix Goncourt. With an oeuvre that includes short stories, essays, plays, film scripts, and novels, Chamoiseau was bestowed the title Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres in 2010 by the French Minister of Culture, as a recognition for his contribution to arts and literature.

Jeffrey Landon Allen is a senior lecturer of French and Italian in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures at North Carolina State University, where he is currently finishing his dissertation on educational research and policy analysis.

Charly Verstraet is a PhD student in the department of French and Italian at Emory University. His interests lie at the crossroads of postcolonial, environmental, and migrant literature during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. His articles, interviews, and translations have appeared in Nouvelles Etudes Francophones, Francosphères, Contemporary French and Francophone Studies: Sites, and sx salon. He is currently writing a dissertation on the representations of the coastline in Caribbean literature, painting, and photography.



1 In the original French, Patrick Chamoiseau uses the Martiniquan Creole verb enchouker, which comes from the noun chouk, or “the stump.”

2 In the original French—“La Lettre incise qui fait langage parmi la houle des langues” (our italics)—Chamoiseau makes a distinction between langage and langue, which both translate into English as “language.”


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