Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Jacques Rouboud's "La Disparition" in English Translation

The French edition of Georges Perec's lipogramatic novel La Disparition begins with a poem ascribed (perhaps truthfully, perhaps fictitiously -- I have no idea) to his fellow Oulipian Jacques Roubaud, which is also titled "La Disparition". The French text of the poem is as follows:
La Disparition

Un corps noir tranchant un flamant au vol bas
un bruit fuit au sol (qu'avant son parcours lourd
dorait un son crissant au grain d'air) il court
portant son sang plus loin son charbon qui bat

Si nul n'allait brillant sur lui pas à pas
dur cil aujourd'hui plomb au fil du bras gourd
Si tombait nu grillon dans l'hors vu au sourd
mouvant baillon du gris hasard sans compas

l'alpha signal inconstant du vrai diffus
qui saurait (saisissant (un doux soir confus
ainsi on croit voir un pont à son galop)

un non qu'à ton stylo tu donnas brûlant)
qu'ici on dit (par un trait manquant plus clos)
I'art toujours su du chant-combat (noit pour blanc)


For some (to me) inexplicable reason, however, the sole published English translation of the work (A Void, translated by Gilbert Adair (1995)) does not include this poem at all, in any form.

There exists, however, an unpublished English translation by John Lee titled Vanish'd, and Lee, unlike Adair, translated the poem. So, courtesy of Google Book's edition of Palimpsestes #9, here is the translation:


A black thing wings a flamingo, low flying,
Bound along ground (which, prior to flight, not light,
Brown'd a grinding sound in flood fo air), plying,
Carrying its blood afar, coal carrion in fright

If nobody was coming braggingly to pass,
Galling brow now, plumb on sagging arm a bind,
If, falling, stark cicala, out of sight, out of mind,
Moving, gagging, gray sick luck, out of compass

Alpha, inconstant sign of truth's diffusion,
Which might know (grasping (on a night of calm confusion
So you think to sight its bridging footfall)

This NO, flaming gift to your plumbago, writing)
That thus is said (by missing mark, most shut of all)
That long-known art of wordplay-swordplay (black for whiting)

-- Trans. John Lee

The Google Books link has a few other tantalizing snippets of Lee's translation from that issue of Palmipsets, although in usual GB fashion it cuts out lots of pages to make sure you can't just read it (copyright forfend!)

But here is this omitted poem, anyway, so for any readers of Adair's A Void, you can cut & paste this in front of your copy & have a complete version.

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