I Will Pronounce Your Name (for Tama) I will pronounce your name, Naëtt, I will declaim you, Naëtt! Naëtt, your name is mild like cinnamon, it is the fragrance in which the lemon grove sleeps, Naëtt, your name is the sugared clarity of blooming coffee trees And it resembles the savannah, that blossoms forth under the masculine ardour of the midday sun. Name of dew, fresher than shadows of tamarind, Fresher even than the short dusk, when the heat of the day is silenced. Naëtt, that is the dry tornado, the hard clasp of lightning Naëtt, coin of gold, shining coal, you my night, my sun!… I am your hero, and now I have become your sorcerer, in order to pronounce your names. Princess of Elissa, banished from Futa on the fateful day. — Léopold Sédar Senghor
Léopold Sédar Senghor pioneered with others the Negritude movement with the consciousness of their black African descent, cultural identity, values, and heritage. Negritude poets like Senghor used glowing terms and flowery language to portray Africa and their African heritage, exalting their blackness and cultural identity. Senghor’s “Black Woman” stands out in this category. Another Senghor’s poem that exemplifies the appreciation of the African beauty is “I Will Pronounce Your Name.”
“I Will Pronounce Your Name” by Léopold Sédar Senghor is a ten-line poem that expresses the poet’s love and admiration for his lover, Naett, whom he addresses as if she were his goddess. In his appreciation of his Naett, the poet elevates his subject to a goddess-like status.
He particularly repeats “Naett”, his lover’s name, six times in the poem, to show how pleasant her name is in his ears and the extent of his love for her. Naett no doubt occupies a special place in his heart.
Léopold Sédar uses heightened language to express the extent of his love for Naett, the subject of the poem. His choice of expressions also shows the effect her love has on him.
In a particular instance, he compares his love for her to “a mild cinnamon.” The poet writes: “your name is like a mild cinnamon.” By this comparison, the poet implies that his lover’s name is precious and invaluable.
He also metaphorically refers to her name as “the fragrance in which the lemon grove sleeps” and “the sugared clarity of blooming coffee trees.” His lover to him is “the dry tornado,” “the hard clap of lightning,” “coin of gold and shining coal.” The poet equates his lover with the primacy of the night and the sun. He uses these descriptions to symbolise the beauty of an African woman like he did another poem of his, “Black Woman.”
Like “Black Woman,” it is pertinent to note that the poet is not just celebrating or appreciating the beauty of the African woman but he is also celebrating his African heritage and the beauty of his African consciousness. In other words, the poet uses Naett, his lover, as a microcosm of the African continent he seeks to appreciate.
There’s a plethora of figures of speech in the poem. As a matter of fact, the essence and meaning of this poem largely rest on the effective use of figures of speech. Using figurative devices, the poet expresses his love for Naett, his mistress, and by extension the African continent. He achieves this through flowery language.
As indicated in the foregoing paragraph the poet uses a simile in the opening line of the poem to powerfully convey Naett’s sensuousness that runs in the poem: “your name is like a mild cinnamon.” Again, the poet corroborates his lover’s sensuousness with a following metaphor: “the fragrance in which the lemon grove sleeps.”
Senghor gives the overall impression that Naett is black, sensuous and radiant. His metaphorical description of her as a “coin of gold” and his oxymoronic rendition of her as “a shining coal” show that Naett’s beauty is hard to define. He describes her as “blooming coffee trees” to drive home her blackness.
By comparing her to “the dry tornado” and “hard clap of lightning,” he further portrays her as a symbol of beauty and strength.
The poet also demonstrates her ability to thrive in the most adverse conditions, thereby highlighting her resilient spirit. He compares her to “the Savannah that blossoms forth under the masculine ardour of the midday sun.”
In summation, “I Will Pronounce Your Name” is a poem written in glowing terms about the beauty, sensuousness and resilience of Naett, an African woman and the poet’s lover. By extension, it also appreciates the beauty and the tenacity of Africans.
Image Credit: Oladimeji Odunsi on Unsplash.