TWO RIVERS PRESS POET OF THE WEEK—21: RENÉ NOYAU
René Noyau (1911/12-84) was a Mauritian poet of African and European descent. He was also an essayist, playwright, chronicler, short story writer and aphorist. He wrote in French and Mauritian Creole and used a number of pseudonyms and initials: Jean Erenne, Jean-Claude Bouais, Michèle Bouais, Prof, Observateur, R., N., R.N., J.E., as well as his own name. He tended to use Jean Erenne for his poetry.
He influenced literary and social events in his island: for example, in 1934 he introduced surrealism with L’Ange aux Pieds d’Airain (The Angel with Feet of Bronze) and importantly in 1971 relaunched Mauritian Creole in literature with the fable Tention Caïma (Beware Crocs About). He was happy to acknowledge and celebrate his origins at a time when African ancestry and heritage were not prized or even mentioned. He was strongly for an independent Mauritius and in the 1950s made writing about politics and the dispossessed his main priority. He described himself as shy but audacious. In his writings he was prepared to stand against what he felt was unjust: he was a strong polemist.
His output is remarkable in quantity and quality. Apart from trying his hand at various genres he was also a prolific letter writer. His commercially published work was limited to two collections of poetry: L’Ange aux Pieds d’Airain (1934), Le Labyrinthe Illuminé (1939) (The Labyrinth Alight), one book of aphorisms and reflections: Le Poinçon de Cristal (1942) (The Cristal Punch). Those three books were signed Jean Erenne. He also published a book of short stories called Passerelles (1936) (Gateways) signed Jean-Claude Bouais. He edited Frontières (1940) (Frontiers) a collection of writings by various authors including two of his own: La Lettre (The Letter), a short story signed Jean Erenne and an essay Filière (Connections) signed Jean-Claude Bouais. Finally, in 1971 he published Tention Caïma, the fable in Mauritian Creole accompanied by a French version, Il y a Toujours des Caïmans (There will Always be Crocodiles), both signed René Noyau. In 2012/13 Gérard Noyau, his son, introduced and edited four volumes of his works, René Noyau, l’oeuvre, in Mauritius with the help of Culture et Avenir (Culture and the Future), a department attached to the office of the then Prime Minister of Mauritius.
As a journalist and chronicler, René Noyau contributed to the dailies Le Mauricien, Le Cernéen, Advance, Action, and to the fortnightly Zamana. In all about 350 of his articles and chronicles have been recovered. The magazine, Le Musée Vivant, Paris, published two of his essays L’Europe et l’Afrique se sont retrouvées dans un tableau de Lapicque (1955) (Europe and Africa meet in a painting by Lapicque) and Présence africaine à l’île Maurice (1956) (African Presence in Mauritius), and three poems: Terre en Feu (1955) (Earth on Fire), Les Arbres Volent et les Oiseaux Tombent (1957) (Trees Fly and Birds fall) and Sega de Liberté (1959) (Sega of Freedom). His Présence Africaine à l’Île Maurice was republished in Sève, a Mauritian publication, in 1958.
Many of his works were published privately, very often for fear of reprisal by the authorities, and circulated among friends in Mauritius and abroad. His long political poem Les Amis du Peuple Veillent (1965 and1968) (The Friends of the People are Watching) is a good example. It saw the riots and the resulting state of emergency as a scheme by the colonial power to quell the voice of the people and surreptitiously annex part of the Mauritian islands before independence, for their oil deposits.
René Noyau and Two Rivers Press: In March 2021, Two Rivers Press will publish Earth on Fire and Other Poems, a selection of René’s poems in bilingual format, the English versions by his son Gérard Noyau with Peter Pegnall. The three poems that follow give a bare indication of the scope of his poetry. The first Fierté (Pride) is illustrative of his love poems. Sadly, for Noyau, love is a ‘microbe’ always ending in separation or other longing. The second, Nature Morte (Still Life), published posthumously, is a moving sketch of a moment in time. The third is the first part of Légendes de Temps et de Lieu (1939) (Legends of Time and Place) which he described as a poem for children.
Mes mains avaient appris à t’appeler parmi les foules.
Je t’avais reconnue au signe simple de la joie
et nous sommes restés longtemps à regarder
les hommes qui passaient au son tumultueux des cuivres de l’amour.
Puis tu m’as demandé d’oublier comme on demande à boire …
je t’ai tendu ma grande coupe débordante de silence.
Et depuis, entre nous, il existe un regard
dont la lumière est déchirante comme un cri !
My hands had learnt to call you in a crowd.
I had recognised you from the simple sign of joy
and we stayed a long time looking at
people who passed to the swirling fanfare of love.
Then you asked me to forget like we’d ask for a drink …
I stretched out my great goblet overflowing with silence.
And since then, between us, there exists a look
whose light is as heartrending as a scream!
Sa grâce suspendue
la grenade mordue
les arbres décollés
une chevelure éparse
un étui de violoncelle
un bruit de moteur
un vendeur de journaux
toute une simplicité de femme assise
triant du riz
Her gracefulness suspended
the pomegranate bitten into
trees blasted off
a cello case
an engine sound
a newspaper seller
all the simplicity of a woman sitting
LÉGENDES DE TEMPS ET DE LIEU (1939)
Les étoiles ne sont plus des lampes,
Ce sont des visages qui sourient
Parce que le ciel ainsi que mon cœur est clair.
La lune n’est plus l’écuelle du chien,
C’est une chèvre qui s’en va
Très lentement boire à l’étang
Et qui sème sur la prairie son lait pur
Et dans mon cœur sa laine grise.
Et l’arbre n’est plus l’arbre,
C’est un pauvre au bord du chemin,
Un mendiant qui tend les mains
Au bord du chemin de mon cœur.
Et je chante pour lui qui ne peut plus m’entendre
Que par le beau miracle vivant de ses sèves.
Et je ne chante pas.
Je trace simplement des routes
Parce que des visages me sourient.
Parce que la chèvre va boire
Et que m’écoute un mendiant.
LEGENDS OF TIME AND PLACE
The stars are no longer lights,
They are faces that smile
Because the sky as well as my heart is clear.
The moon is no longer the bowl of the dog,
It’s a goat which moves
Very slowly towards the pond for a drink
And which sows its pure milk on the meadow
And its grey wool in my heart.
And the tree is no longer the tree,
It’s a poor man at the side of the road,
A beggar stretching his hands
At the edge of the road to my heart
And I sing for the one who can no longer hear me
Except through the living miracle of his lifeblood.
And I do not sing.
I only map out the way
Because faces smile at me.
Because the goat goes to drink
And because a beggar listens to me.