I Will Pronounce Your Name – Leopold Sedar Senghor

Posted: April 2, 2011 in SENEGALESE POETRY
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The greatest of the Francophone African poets you will ever read is Leopold Sedar Senghor. He was born in Senegal, in 1906, and schooled both in Dakar and in Paris, France. He was the first West African to graduate from the Sorbonne (a part of the University of Paris, founded in 1253 that contains the faculties of science and literature) and teach in a French university. He is acclaimed as the father of Negritude (from Negro), a philosophy that affirms the black identity and touts the black man’s values as something to celebrate and be proud of. His poetry shows it in abundance.

Senghor was a statesman. He fought with the French in the Second World War and became a prisoner of war in then Nazi Germany. He became the Deputy for Senegal in the French Constituent Assembly, President of the Council of the Republic and Counselling Minister at the office of the President of the French Community. In 1960, he became the President of the Federal Republic of Mali and later in the same year, the President of an Independent Republic of Senegal. He was president until 1980.

His poetry revealed the contrast between the French way of life being foisted on French African colonies under a purported Policy of Assimilation and the original unblemished values of the African. In this light, he was either always too busy praising Negritude or denouncing the French ideal. This poem comes from his publication, Chants d’Ombre (Songs from the Shadow). I hope I got my French right there.


I will pronounce your name, Naett, I will declaim you, Naett!
Naett, your name is mild like cinnamon, it is the fragrance in which the lemon grove sleeps
Naett, 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,
Naett, that is the dry tornado, the hard clap of lightning
Naett, coin of gold, shining coal, you my night, my sun!…
I am you hero, and now I have become your sorcerer, in order to pronounce your names.
Princess of Elissa, banished from Futa on the fateful day.


Very few lyric poems are filled with so much self-indulgence. Senghor is deliriously and starry-eyed, singing the praise of a lady he names as Naett. It is important to read Senghor’s poetry with Negritude themes as many commentators have likened Naett to Africa, to whom he writes this letter from France. To declaim someone (line 1) is to mention their name theatrically, poetically. Well, this is a poem. So in mentioning her name, Senghor says “Naett” dreamily as one who is totally consumed. Undisplaced, his love for Africa was as strong.

From lines 2-8, Senghor likens the name Naett to a host of natural breath-takers. Mind that he is not even praising the lady herself yet but only her name. In line 2, her name is like cinnamon, an aromatic spice and fragrance. He is a lover of the savannah, the African plains, and to him, her name is like it (line 4) when the African midday sun causes it to blossom. Her name is compared to dew (line 5), that early morning remnant of night mist and also to the short dusk (line 6), very welcome respite from the heat of day. Her name evokes power, as of a dry tornado (line 7) and inspires him to confess his love for blackness, something that Western literature is mute on. He calls her shining coal, my night (line 8): strange references for beauty. Does night entice? But it is black and he likes it. Does coal shine? No, but Senghor’s coal is of another beauty. His sun! Africa and Blackness! Negritude!

In the last two lines, her name has transformed him into a sorcerer (line 9). For her only. And this is important because the African sorcerer deals in invocation, incantation and chanting. He mentions the names and sings in praise of his divine spirit. And to him, nothing can help him “to pronounce your names” better than being a sorcerer. Note that, he has never said she had names until now. And now, as a sorcerer, he proceeds to call her Princess of Elissa, banished from Futa on the fateful day (line 10). Futa was a West African kingdom that had its capital as Futa Djallon and blossomed around present-day Guinea. She was banished from there. African royalty, if indeed she was a princess, were banished for serious crimes, for example, falling in love with a commoner when a prince is the allowed. Could Senghor’s love have cost the girl a kingdom? We will never know. If Naett is Africa, how would this sentence translate? I am lost, really.

  1. this my best poem and poet.needs more……………..


  2. Olumide Oladele says:

    i believe Senghor needs to be given more honor, to me, he’s simply the greatest African poet.please where can i get a complete works of his poems


    • Dela says:

      Thanks for stopping by, Olumide. The error is that most African poets are grossly underrated and undercelebrated. This blog opened my eyes to it. Many of our writers are comparable to the Tennysons and Poes but we never accord them. It should change. For Senghor, he certainly is one of the greatest. And another ill is that African literature books are scarce on the continent. Amazon has copies of Senghor’s works. And that means you pay for shipping or get it brought down for you. We as Africans must support our literature and urgently too:)


  3. Buhari Omolori says:

    how may i begin to address this icon, for words to mere and less to pass my message. Leopold Sedar Senghor…..


  4. james austine says:

    africa is very beautiful but we did not value d beauty.in dis poem u will know how beautiful africa is.


  5. Duby says:

    What are the antecedents in the poem?


  6. Vanessa Orji says:

    Well well what more can i say, in africa one thing we know how to do well is to put our experience into the difffrent gernes of literature like senghor jst did and nothing is more interesting than some one helping to alert a view you wish you could alert but dnt know how to go about it, and with senghor i guess we wld appreciate africa better beginin from the poet himself.


  7. Daiton Copelin says:

    I cherish the proper info I’m getting here. Your authored subject matter is stylish.


  8. Oule says:

    I love this poem. It makes for great reading. Thanks.


  9. Many thanks a ton for that good writeup. Actually, how might all of us talk?


  10. olaoluwa says:

    fine negritude poem.l.s senghor always make the white know that africans are black and proud.am proud to be africa


  11. Alvastar says:

    Hi pls i want to know if this poem is a lyric poem or an ode.
    Im confused…and what is the difference??


  12. Alvastar says:

    hi Dela!!!! thankx very much it helps


  13. long island magicians kids says:

    Aw man I wanted to take a moment to say I really like reading your website.


  14. Classics says:

    You made some good points there. I think most individuals will agree with your site’s way of explaining subjective poetry.


  15. Parraz says:

    Thanks a ton for the good writeup. Mind you, how could we communicate?


  16. Joshua Nkoom says:

    Thanks! Dela,your website is helping to groom we the young poets.Indeed he is an icon of African poetry.


  17. Jerry says:

    nice one so tempted to just use this on lines for my babe so romantic


  18. Ajiboye Kehinde Emmanuel says:

    Your is one of the poem i will always read


  19. oladipo tunde james says:



  20. Kwame Agyekum Owusu Agyekum says:

    lengend is him,a star in the sea and the king of art africa salutes you


  21. Beatrice Habibu says:

    I will pronounce your name is one of my favorite African literature piece that I will forever cherish.


  22. Am proud to be an African and mostly a Nigerian!…i love Leopold senghor’s poem ‘i will pronounce your name,Naett’.i have always love to be a poet also…so for that,am looking forward to imitate our African poet mostly Senghor!


  23. pete says:

    Dis poem inspired me to become a poet!


  24. Habibi says:

    Thank you for another excellent article. What place else could anybody get that kind of information in such a perfect manner of writing? I have a presentation next week, and I am on the look for such info.


  25. Habibi says:

    You can definitely see your expertise within the work you write. The arena hopes for more passionate writers like you who aren’t afraid to say how they believe. Always follow your heart. “Until you walk a mile in another man’s moccasins you can’t imagine the smell.” by Robert Byrne.


  26. ebenezer adoko says:

    a delibrate sense of humour. i will love this poem to death


  27. Uyoobong Sunday says:

    People think he was one of the best, I disagree Greatly

    cos he’s Simply the best.


  28. Uyoobong Sunday says:

    I love his Books, so inspiring.


  29. Asamoah Otabil Richard says:

    Plsssssss can anyone of you discuss with me the imagery used in this poem


  30. Maame Afua Boatemaa says:

    Very gud…


  31. dora says:

    Nice one . wish 2 continue reading ….


  32. Edwin Agwata says:

    coolpoem,for it drives me to great passion and pathos to re think who a we as african, you can as well question yourself


  33. For africa to be compared wit all this thIngs eg. Cinnamon, dew,sugared clarity of blooming coffee trees,,coin of goal hmmmm a proud to be a black


  34. I love this poem nd the poet


  35. Joshua Omeiza says:

    The last line of the poem is very tricky that one may just ignore the idea that, the poem depicts Africa. Anyway, it is surely for Africa, but how does the last line link? In the last line: …banished from Futa on the fateful day. This simply connotes the fact that Africa was deprived her deserved position in the world, not for her deficiency, she obviously has non; but because of the race she shelters, we black.
    However, my discretion is based on linking with your analysis, because, of course, no poem carries just a single meaning. This is my quota. Thanks.


    • Dashe Rimman Changgwak says:

      Without reasonable doubt, Leopold Sedar Senghor has imprint indelible evidence in the annals of African Poets history.


  36. […] Source: I Will Pronounce Your Name – Leopold Sedar Senghor […]


  37. Habiba Harriet says:

    Great work of art….coming from a fellow African so impressive..i love


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