by Catherine DeAngelis
Words have power.
Words can heal or harm.
Positive communicators make sure that they hold a large vocabulary comprising inspiring and motivating words, phrases, and idioms. Great communicators always know how to choose their words wisely with the aim to build an individual’s self-esteem and to make us feel worthy.
Aimé Césaire (1913-2008) was born in Martinique. He wrote a number of plays and poems in his native French, the most notable, Return to My Native Land. He was a poet, playwright, essayist and politician who reportedly endured a lifelong struggle to restore dignity to colonized peoples. He contributed to human culture and the articulation of ‘Négritude’ in the 1930s, as a state or condition of being African that incorporated a consciousness of pride in the cultural and physical aspects of being a person of African descent in the world. This movement, urged blacks to reject the idea of nationalism as well as that of any white influence upon one’s culture, and instead embrace and celebrate one’s African heritage.
Before Césaire’s death, he spoke about his faith in the power of words. During a UNESCO interview, he shared this on the power of words. “I think words are the essential instrument! For a painter it would be painting! For a poet it is words! I think it was Martin Heidegger who said that words are the abode of being. There are many such quotations. I believe it was René Char, in his surrealist days, who said that words know much more about us than we know about them. I too believe that words have a revealing as well as a creative function.”
Césaire was asked, “Is poetry still effective today? Will it always be?” He answered, “Yes, it is for me the fundamental mode of expression, and the world’s salvation depends on its ability to heed that voice. It is obvious that the voice of poetry has been less and less heeded during the century we have lived through, but it will come to be realized more and more that it is the only voice that can still be life-giving and that can provide a basis on which to build and reconstruct.” (The Journal of an African Studies, vol.2, no.4, June 2008). Read full Interview with Aimé Césaire, by Annick Thebia Melsan, UNESCO Courier >> The Liberating Power of Word.
As a result of the words of Césaire, Langston Hughes (1902 – 1967), was one of the first to adopt the ‘négritude’ movement in the United States. Hughes was a Poet, prolific and diverse, who chose poetry, fiction, playwriting to children’s books to express himself through the power of words. He was the first Black American to be elected to public office. He began writing poetry in the eighth grade even though his father discouraged him from pursuing writing as a career. His father preferred that he study something ‘more practical.’
Below are Hughes’ words, captured in a Poem, Life is Fine, reflecting a poignant time in history.Life Is Fine by Langston Hughes I went down to the river, I set down on the bank. I tried to think but couldn’t, So I jumped in and sank. I came up once and hollered! I came up twice and cried! If that water hadn’t a-been so cold I might’ve sunk and died. But it was Cold in that water! It was cold! I took the elevator Sixteen floors above the ground. I thought about my baby And thought I would jump down. I stood there and I hollered! I stood there and I cried! If it hadn’t a-been so high I might’ve jumped and died. But it was High up there! It was high! So since I’m still here livin’, I guess I will live on. I could’ve died for love– But for livin’ I was born Though you may hear me holler, And you may see me cry– I’ll be dogged, sweet baby, If you gonna see me die. Life is fine! Fine as wine! Life is fine!