Les Phares haïtiens: 19th-Century Haitian Luminaries in Translation

Les Phares haïtiens: 19th-Century Haitian Luminaries in Translation


Les Phares,” the sixth poem in Charles Baudelaire’s 1857 edition of Les Fleurs du Mal, celebrates the painters Rubens, Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Puget, Watteau, Goya, and Delacroix as “beacons” of creative expression, the “fierce cry” of their innovative work resounding through the ages and lighting the way for new generations of artists. Other poems evoke “dreams of travel to Haiti,” some inspired by his muse, Jeanne Duval, who spent the first twenty years of her life in Haiti before moving to Paris. Baudelaire was himself elevated to the rank of “luminary” in the twentieth century thanks to the work of poets and musicians, many of whom made his work known through their own translations into English.

The French-speaking Haitian poets of Baudelaire's generation did not benefit from the same cultural privilege: the 1804 Haitian proclamation of independence from France, coupled with geographical isolation from nineteenth-century European taste makers, obscured their literary status outside of the new nation-state where they did, indeed, serve as literary luminaries. Few English translations of their works are freely available online today; the excellent Poetry of Haitian Independence, edited by Doris Kadish and Deborah Jenson, with translations by Norman Shapiro, and Haitian Revolutionary Fictions: An Anthology, edited and translated by Marlene L. Daut and colleagues, are not yet available through open access channels.

This site seeks to make the voices of nineteenth-century Haitian literary luminaries accessible to a wider audience by translating them into English (and occasionally into Spanish and Krèyol). The project began with the work of students enrolled in a nineteenth-century French poetry and translation class taught by Dr. Elizabeth Emery at Montclair State University in spring 2022. Each student-authored page includes a brief biography of the poet, a facing page translation, and an audio recording of that poem in the original French. Their choices were informed by Lawrence Venuti’s writings about the importance of translation as a political act (giving voice to those excluded from the mainstream) and sought to bring attention to previously untranslated poems originally published in the pages of nineteenth-century Haitian literary journals such as L’Abeille haytienne and L’Union or anthologized in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries by Louis Morpeau and Raphaël Berrou. Most of these student translators sought to produce English-language texts that map closely to the originals, thus allowing readers to follow the French poems.

We hope to expand this preliminary repository in the future by adding more translations and recordings (notably into Haitian Krèyol). We invite interested parties to propose their own translations and audio recordings of nineteenth-century Haitian poems. For more information, please contact Dr. Emery (emerye at montclair.edu).


Warm thanks to Dr. Pascale LaFountain for suggesting the project title, to Dr. Chelsea Stieber for her encouragement and bibliographic suggestions, to Dr. Kathleen Loysen for tips and insights, and to Emeline Frix and Gabriela Rincon for their editorial work.

Recommended Readings and Select Bibliography

Browse the contents of Les Phares haïtiens: 19th-Century Haitian Luminaries in Translation:

Poets by Name
Title or First Line of Poem