“Writing and thinking about ‘The Slave’s Complaint’: A Poem”

“Writing and thinking about ‘The Slave’s Complaint’: A Poem”

Masillon Coicou (1865-1908)

Just in case you want to know how I spent my birthday Yesterday.

On my birthday, I took a very long nap to fight my interesting seasonal allergy that comes every year, 3 days before my birthday and would last for two weeks; thanks be to God, pharmaceutical scientists, and pain reliefs such as the “Allergy nasal Spray” and “Zyrtec” that helped me to rest and sleep for a good four hours. 💘

Afterwards, while still sneezing and being physically uncomfortable, I spent about five to six hours exegeting and carefully analyzing the syntax, rhetoric, and message of this powerful poem featured here: “Complaintes d’Esclave” (“The Slave’s Complaint”) by the great Haitian poet and brilliant social critic Masillon Coicou (1865-1908). This poem, published in 1892, is one of the earliest expressions of the problem of Black theodicy and the conundrum of the slave life in Black Atlantic Literary Tradition and Haitian Poetry. This is a badass prayer of lament similar to the ones found in the book of Psalms in the Bible. The slave-speaker in the poem is very angry at God for making him “a negro” and “black” (“Pourquoi donc suis-je nègre? Oh! pourquoi suis-je noir?”), predestining his fate. The slave rejects the idea of redemptive suffering found in the book of Job, Christian theology, and in certain versions of Liberation theology (i.e. Black Theology), and he pleads for divine justice and emancipation. God disappoints him and he fails to come to his rescue. The French version/original is quite powerful and poetically stunning. In my attempt to explain it, I ended up writing a 3000-word draft about it. 😂

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