Authors: Léopold Senghor

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Senegalese statesman, poet, and political philosopher

Author Works

Poetry:

Chants d’ombre, 1945

Hosties noires, 1948

Chants pour Naëtt, 1949

Chants d’ombre–Hosties noires, 1956

Éthiopiques, 1956

Nocturnes, 1961 (English translation, 1969)

Poèmes, 1964

Selected Poems, 1964

Élégie des Alizés, 1969

Selected Poems of Léopold Sédar Senghor, 1977

Oeuvre poétique, 1990 (The Collected Poetry, 1991)

Nonfiction:

Congrès constitutif du P.F.A.: Rapport sur la doctrine et le programme du parti, 1959 (Report on the Principles and Programme of the Party, 1959)

La Préhistoire et les groupes éthniques, 1960

Nation et voie africaine du socialisme, 1961 (as volume 2 of Liberté, 1971; Nationhood and the African Road to Socialism, 1962; abridged as On African Socialism, 1964)

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin et la politique africaine, 1962

Liberté: Négritude et humanisme, 1964 (Freedom I: Negritude and Humanism, 1974)

Théorie et pratique du socialisme sénégalais, 1964

Les Fondements de l’Africanité: Ou, Négritude et arabité, 1967 (as Négritude, arabisme, et francité: Réflexions sur le problème de la culture, 1967; The Foundations of “Africanité”: Or, Négritude and “Arabité,” 1971)

La Parole chez Paul Claudel et chez les négro-africains, 1973

Pour une relecture africaine de Marx et d’Engels, 1976

Liberté: Négritude et civilisation de l’universel, 1977

Liberté: Socialisme et planification, 1983

Liberté: Le Dialogue des cultures, 1993

Edited Text:

Anthologie de la nouvelle poésie nègre et malgache de langue française, 1948

Miscellaneous:

Prose and Poetry, 1965

Biography

Even though the three strands are intimately intertwined, it is appropriate to focus separately on the personal, artistic, and political lives of Léopold Sédar Senghor (SAYN-gor). He was born the son of a prosperous cattle breeder and peanut grower in Senegal. Senghor belonged to a Christian minority in a predominantly Muslim country. His early childhood exposed him to traditional customs and beliefs, indigenous poetry, and Senegal’s natural setting. He was to return to these nostalgic, idyllic themes in his poetry.{$I[AN]9810001616}{$I[A]Senghor, Léopold}{$I[geo]SENEGAL;Senghor, Léopold}{$I[tim]1906;Senghor, Léopold}

Léopold Senghor

(National Archives)

Senghor went to a Catholic elementary school in a country still colonized by France. In 1914 he was admitted to a Catholic boarding school at Ngazobil, where, in addition to French, Senghor studied the native Wolof vernacular. He was also exposed to the French policy of assimilating gifted natives–in language and attitudes, the French tried to turn them into African Frenchmen through a curriculum based entirely on European civilization. Senghor proved to be a brilliant student, and he was so devout that he resolved to become a Catholic priest.

But at the seminary in Dakar, which he entered in 1922, the French principal exhibited racist attitudes which clashed with Senghor’s outspokenness. In 1926 he moved to the secular French lycée (academic secondary school) in Dakar, from which he graduated in 1928. His outstanding record won him prizes and a scholarship to the elite Lycée Louis-le-Grand in Paris. There, Senghor met the Martinican poet Aimé Césaire and the French Guianan poet Léon Gontran Damas–two men who were later to help Senghor form his philosophy of Négritude. In 1931 Senghor earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Paris, receiving its highest degree–agrégation de grammaire–in 1935. After a year of military service, he began teaching at various lycées in France. The outbreak of World War II in 1939 saw him enrolled in the French colonial infantry.

Senghor’s entire unit was captured by the advancing German army in 1940, but he was released in 1941 for health reasons. He resumed his teaching career at increasingly prestigious institutions in 1942 while engaging in French Resistance activities. Even though his themes ranged from love poems inspired by his first wife (Nocturnes), to poems about the Senegalese landscape such as Chants pour Naëtt (songs for Naëtt), to elegies for the dead(Élégie des Alizés, literally “elegy of the trade winds”), to the plight of Senegalese soldiers during World War II (Chants d’ombre, or “songs of shadow”), there is no question that Senghor’s name is most closely associated with Négritude, a movement that influenced black culture worldwide. The term was coined by Aimé Césaire, but the concept had some vague antecedents in earlier African American literature. Négritude strives to seek out and rehabilitate the roots of black culture, drawing upon African history and anthropology along the way.

Senghor agreed with Césaire that African values are in some cases preferable to Western ones and that the African mind was more intuitive but less inclined to rational thought and science than that of the European. But he was less strident than others as he tried to define the differences between the black and the white worlds and especially as he strived to show how an African could remain comfortable partaking of French culture without denying his African roots (Éthiopiques, 1956). In 1964 Senghor’s major verse became accessible to English speakers through translation in the volume Selected Poems.

Senghor’s political ascent was as meteoric as his literary one, also partly because of his ease at working in both a French and a Senegalese milieu. After being elected representative from Senegal to the French Constituent Assembly in 1945, he moved up, through a number of elective and appointed positions in both France and Senegal, to become his country’s first president in 1960. He was re-elected several times but finally resigned as of January 1, 1981.

Senghor’s record as chief of state was not an unblemished one. Political power struggles and his occasional suppression of opposition parties, a huge and wasteful bureaucracy that accumulated because of patronage, a faltering economy, and Senghor’s inability to galvanize the masses with his philosophy of Négritude were some of the reasons. To the end of his political career, Senghor continued to advocate an African road to socialism, which he explained as a middle position between individualism and collectivism, one promoting universal humanism.

Following his retirement, Senghor traveled, especially in Africa, but he settled in France. There, in 1984, he was invested as the first African member of the French Academy–the forty “immortals.” He had already served as the official grammarian in the drafting of the French constitutions of 1946 and 1958.

Senghor’s divorce from Ginette Eboué in 1956 and marriage to Colette Hubert in 1957 and the premature death of two of his three sons indicate that his private life, like his political life, also witnessed ups and downs. Nevertheless, he received universal accolades as a great poet and as the author of significant critical and political prose, and in 1996 France and Senegal joined together to celebrate his ninetieth birthday.

BibliographyBâ, Sylvia W. The Concept of Negritude in the Poetry of Léopold Sédar Senghor. Princteon, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1973. Examines issues of race identity in Senghor’s works. Includes translations of selected poems. Bibliography.Hymans, Jacques. Leopold Sédar Senghor: An Intellectual Biography. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1971. This full biography pays particular attention to Senghor’s philosophical and literary development. Considers, among other things, the influence of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Paul Claudel, Marc Chagall, and Jacques Maritain. Bibliography.Kluback, William. Léopold Sédar Senghor: From Politics to Poetry. New York: P. Lang, 1997. A book of imagined conversations based on Senghor’s philosophy regarding humanity’s moral evolution.Markovitz, Irving Leonard. Leopold Sédar Senghor and the Politics of Négritude. New York: Atheneum, 1969. A penetrating consideration of Senghor’s philosophy of leadership and issues of race identity.Mezu, Sebastian Okechukwu. The Poetry of Leopold Sédar Senghor. Rutherford, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1973. A rare monograph focusing on Senghor’s poetry.Rasmussen, R. Kent. Modern African Political Leaders. New York: Facts on File, 1998. Covers leaders, including Senghor, representative of the major regions of Africa during a period when many African nations moved from colonial rule to independence.Spleth, Janice. Léopold Sédar Senghor. New York: Macmillan Library Reference, 1985. A detailed overview of Senghor’s poetry, his development as poet and statesman, and the conflicts of those two roles. This discussion involves the author in extending her coverage beyond Senghor to examine the relationship between French and francophone African literature in general.Spleth, Janice, ed. Critical Perspectives on Léopold Sédar Senghor. Washington, D.C.: Three Continents Press, 1993. A collection of critical essays on Senghor’s writings.Vaillant, Janet G. Black, French, and African: A Life of Leopold Sédar Senghor. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1990. A biography that adds to previous literature an extended examination of Senghor’s childhood, including interviews with his extended Senegalese family. More material on his poetry than on his presidency of Senegal. The first major biography in English.
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