This essay revisits the vexed question of Aimé Césaire's poetics in relation to the choice of the language and style of his signature prose-poem, Cahier d'un retour au pays natal. It seeks to reframe the issue in terms of the ancient Greco-Roman concept of “levels of style” and complicates the conventional notion of a rigid disjunction between local vernacular and standard metropolitan languages as they are deployed in major Caribbean literary texts. The focus of the analysis is on Césaire's ambitious program of language renewal seen through the lens of a twofold comparison with (a) Dante's project of forging a “vulgar eloquence” grounded in a sophisticated elevation of the Italian vernacular and (b) Derek Walcott's parallel achievement of creating an Anglophone Caribbean “pseudo-epic” in language that is indebted to the tonalities and rhythms of his native St. Lucian Creole(s). This brief exploration of basic aspects of Césaire's poetics opens the way to a more nuanced understanding of the scope of his “antiassimilationist” stance as manifested in his political engagements.

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