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Arthur Rimbaud – Le Dormeur du Val Posted by on Jun 5, 2020 in Culture

Bonjour! 

I would like to share with you all one of my favorite French poems by Arthur Rimbaud, Le Dormeur du Val,  The Sleeper of the Valley. Rimbaud wrote this poem in 1870 when he was just 16 years old, during the Franco-Prussian war. The English translation is below as well, but it simply doesn’t do it justice, so I highly suggest trying to stick to the French and also listening to the audio!

Le Dormeur du Val

C’est un trou de verdure, où chante une rivière
Accrochant follement aux herbes des haillons
D’argent; où le soleil, de la montagne fière,
Luit: c’est un petit val qui mousse de rayons.

Un soldat jeune, bouche ouverte, tête nue,
Et la nuque baignant dans le frais cresson bleu,
Dort; il est étendu dans l’herbe, sous la nue,
Pâle dans son lit vert où la lumière pleut.

Les pieds dans les glaïeuls, il dort. Souriant comme
Sourirait un enfant malade, il fait un somme:
Nature, berce-le chaudement: il a froid.

Les parfums ne font pas frissonner sa narine;
Il dort dans le soleil, la main sur sa poitrine,
Tranquille. Il a deux trous rouges au côté droit.

The Sleeper of the Valley
It’s a green hollow where a river sings
Clinging madly to the grasses with its rags
Of silver, where the sun, from the proud mountain,
Shines; it’s a little valley, bubbling with sunlight.
A young soldier, open-mouthed, bare-headed
And the nape of his neck bathing in cool blue watercress,
Sleeps; he’s stretched out in the grass, under the sky,
Pale in his green bed where the light falls like rain.
His feet in the gladiolas, he sleeps. Smiling as
a sick child would smile, he takes a nap.
Nature, cradle him warmly: he is cold.
No perfume makes his nostrils quiver;
He sleeps in the sun, hand on his chest,
Quiet. There are two red holes on his right side.

Rimbaud at 17

One of my favorite things about this poem is the positioning that you find yourself in as you move from verse to verse. I imagine the scene getting closer until the truth is revealed; starting from the valley, to the water, to the gladiolas, to finally close enough to see the bullet holes in his chest. It creeps up on you both in a physical sense and a figurative sense; when you read the beautiful scenery, you do not immediately imagine the gruesome reality of war that is revealed in the last sentence. It is a symbolic representation of both life and death, and a stark criticism of war.
Rimbaud recognized early on his desire to be a poet, and in a letter written to his teacher Georges Izambard, he explains his process and desire:
Je veux être poète, et je travaille à me rendre voyant : vous ne comprendrez pas du tout, et je ne saurais presque vous expliquer. Il s’agit d’arriver à l’inconnu par le dérèglement de tous les sens. Les souffrances sont énormes, mais il faut être fort, être né poète, et je me suis reconnu poète. Ce n’est pas du tout ma faute. C’est faux de dire : Je pense : on devrait dire : On me pense. − Pardon du jeu de mots. − Je est un autre. Tant pis pour le bois qui se trouve violon, et nargue aux inconscients, qui ergotent sur ce qu’ils ignorent tout à fait !

Translated:

I wish to be a poet, and I am working to make myself into a seer: you will not understand at all, and I would not nearly know how to explain it to you. It’s a question of coming to the unknown through the disordering of all the senses. The suffering is enormous, but one must be strong, be born a poet, and I have come to terms with my destiny as a poet. It’s not at all my fault. It’s wrong to say “I think”; one ought to say “I am being thought” – Forgive the play on words – I is another. Too bad for the wood which finds itself a violin, and brush off the oblivious, who quibble over things they know nothing about!

Rimbaud became a vagabond shortly after, running away from home and delving deep into his art. In 1871 he started a torrid affair with another famous French poet, Paul Verlaine, which resulted in him being shot by Verlaine and fearing for his life. He survived the wound to his wrist and with Verlaine in jail, he continued his travels, eventually abandoning writing and dying of osteosarcoma in 1891 at the age of 37. His symbolist writings and poetry prefigured the surrealist movement. Just as he wrote to his teacher; he was destined to forever be revered as an influential poet and writer.

A la prochaine!

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About the Author: Bridgette

Just your average Irish-American Italo-Francophone. Digital nomad. Gaelophile. Creator of A Polyglot's Inkblot: https://www.apolyglotsinkblot.com


Comments:

  1. CathyL:

    Wonderful. Merci for sharing.

    • Bridgette:

      @CathyL De rien Cathy!

  2. Stuart King:

    Thank you for sharing. I was moved to tears.

    • Bridgette:

      @Stuart King I am so glad you enjoyed it Stuart, it is powerful indeed.