Two Poems by Jacques Roubaud

Translator’s note: Roubaud wrote the first poem, “À cinq heures du soir” (itself a nod to Lorca’s famous “La cogida y la muerte”), about Warren Motte’s dog Lucy, who shared with her owner a game of virtual fetch that evolved into a game wherein he struck the classic poses of the toreador while she charged him like a bull; see Motte’s “On Interspecies Love and Canine Tauromachy,” Contemporary French and Francophone Studies 16.4 (September 2012). See also Motte’s post about Sheba, his newest canine companion, on the WLT blog. – Daniel Simon




A cinq heures du soir

                                    à Lucy, in memoriam 

Lucy commence l’escalade
Le soleil brille sur les Rocheuses
Le ciel s’immense
Les arbres s’accrochent à la pierre
Le vent s’étouffe de lumière

A cinq heures du soir 

Lucy franchit toutes les crevasses
Il n’y a plus d’arbres
Il n’y a plus de buissons
Les vautours s’écartent
Les fleurs s’ilencent

Il est cinq heures du soir
Il est cinq heures du soir à toutes les horloges

A cinq heures du soir

Le vol d’Ibéria décolle de la Sierra Nevada
Avec 365 toreros
Dans l’avion Belmonte
Ordoñez, Dominguin, Manolete,
Conchita Cintron,
Rafael de Paula, Joselito,
El Yiyo
Il est cinq heures du soir

L’avion se pose au bord de la grande arène de neige
Le soleil est immobile
La lumière s’éclaire
Les étoiles regardent 

A cinq heures du soir

Lucy sort l’habit de lumières de son baluchon
Chaquetilla, Chaleco, Taleguilla
Camisa, Pañoleta, Faja
et la petite coleta

A cinq heures du soir 

Un à un
Les trois taureaux entrent dans l’arène
Desertor, Bailador, Islero
Ce sont taureaux de cristal
Leurs sabots grattent la neige
Soulèvent copeaux de glace 

Il est cinq heures exactement

Lucy triomphe
Elle reçoit les deux oreilles et la queue
Tous la félicitent
Federico Garcia Lorca la félicite
Don Pepe Bergamin, Bernard Manciet la félicitent 

Il est cinq heures du soir
Il sera toujours cinq heures du soir


At Five in the Evening

                              to Lucy, in memoriam

Lucy begins the ascent
sunlight gleams on the Rockies
the sky’s capacious
trees cling to rock
breezes swell with sunlight  

At five in the evening

Lucy bounds over every crevasse
trees have vanished
bushes have vanished
the vultures wheel away
the flowers s’hush

It’s five in the evening
It’s five in the evening on every clock

At five in the evening

The Iberia flight takes off from the Sierra Nevada
with 365 matadors aboard – Belmonte
Ordoñez, Dominguín, Manolete, 
Conchita Cintrón, 
Rafael de Paula, Joselito,
El Yiyo
It’s five in the evening

The plane lands on the vast snowy arena’s rim
stilled is the sun
the light brightens
stars look on

At five in the evening

Lucy dons the suit of lights from her bundle –
chaquetilla, chaleco, taleguilla 
camisa, pañoleta, faja
and the little coleta

At five in the evening

One by one 
the three bulls enter the arena –
Desertor, Bailador, Islero
bulls made of crystal
their hooves flail the snow
flinging shards of ice

At the stroke of five

Lucy triumphs
two ears and the tail her reward
all congratulate her
Federico García Lorca congratulates her
Don Pepe Bergamín, Bernard Manciet congratulate her

It is five in the evening
It will always be five in the evening 

Translation from the French
By Daniel Simon


sonnet 18 (10–12 mars 2000)

                                                                                          pour Warren Motte

Redescendant de la montagne prise en brume
Ayant potentiellement vu la blanche écaille
Du grand dragon rocheux couché sur l'Amérique
Entre deux océans, un vrai village avec

Des chiens devant les portes. L'unique boutique
Offrait root-beer et peanut galettes. Vrai luxe.
Les arbres sur le sentier grimpant aiguisaient
De givre en aiguilles précises, fines, leurs

Branches doigts. Que n'aurais-je donné pour savoir
Bondir comme Lucy lancée à la recherche
D'un caillou ou d'un bâton, mais purement vir-

-Tuels: exploit franchement post-moderne. J'ai
Encore dans mes muscles l'idée de montée
Vers les montagnes, vers la blanche et tendre brume.



Sonnet 18 (March 10–12, 2000) 

                                                                        for Warren Motte

Coming back down the mountain covered in fog
Having potentially viewed the white spine of
The great rocky dragon sprawled on America
Between two oceans, a real village with dogs  

In front of the doors. The only store sold
Root-beer and peanut-butter cookies. Real deluxe.
The trees on the trail up were sharpening
Their finger-branches with fine, precise frost-  

Needles. What wouldn't I have given to know
How to bounce like Lucy thrown in pursuit
Of a pebble or stick, yes but purely virt-  

-Ual: a frankly post-modern exploit. My
Muscles still hold the idea of climbing up
Toward the mountains, toward the white and tender fog. 

Translation from the French
By Jean-Jacques Poucel

Editorial note: “Sonnet 18” is from Churchill 40 et autres sonnets de voyage: 2000–2003 (Gallimard, 2004), page 23. Both poems reprinted by permission of the author.

Jacques Roubaud (b. 1932) became a member of the oulipo (Workshop of Potential Literature) group in 1966 and was nominated by Marcel Bénabou for the Neustadt International Prize for Literature in 2008. His most recent book to be translated into English is Mathematics: A Novel (2012).

Daniel Simon is a poet, essayist, translator, and WLT’s assistant director and editor in chief. His most recent edited collection, Dispatches from the Republic of Letters: 50 Years of the Neustadt International Prize for Literature (2020), was nominated for a 2020 Foreword INDIES Award.

Jean-Jacques Poucel is the author of Jacques Roubaud and the Invention of Memory (2006) and has written articles on the Oulipo, some of which appear in Pereckonings (Yale French Studies 105), Constrainted Writing I & II (Poetics Today 30.4 & 31.1), and in the Oulipo dossier at (issue 8). His translations of Emmanuel Hocquard's Conditions of Light (2010) and Anne Portugal's Flirt Formula (2012) have both been published by La Presse (Fence Books). In 2011–2012 he was a Fellow at the Internationales Kolleg Morphomata, Cologne, Germany. He is currently visiting faculty at the University of Calgary and at the University of Paris VII–Denis Diderot.