I remember how painful it was to study this piece of literature in secondary school, despite the humour and the witty efforts deployed by my 7th grade French teacher. Le Dormeur du Val by Arthur Rimbaud, which is known as ‘The Sleeper in the Valley’ in English language, sank somehow in my unconscious, and stayed there, dormant… till recently.
It must be the community of poets around here, and also the fact that I had stumbled upon this narration by Gilles-Claude Thériault that finally unearthed the hidden gem and revealed its fascinating facets. Now with the years, I can fully appreciate the beauty and gravity of this poem, as well as the genius and subtleness of Rimbaud.
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.
– Arthur Rimbaud
Le Dormeur du Val, oct. 1870.
Here is an English translation by Oliver Bernard: Arthur Rimbaud, Collected Poems (1962)
It is a green hollow where a stream gurgles,
Crazily catching silver rags of itself on the grasses;
Where the sun shines from the proud mountain:
It is a little valley bubbling over with light.
A young soldier, open-mouthed, bare-headed,
With the nape of his neck bathed in cool blue cresses,
Sleeps; he is stretched out on the grass, under the sky,
Pale on his green bed where the light falls like rain.
His feet in the yellow flags, he lies sleeping. Smiling as
A sick child might smile, he is having a nap:
Cradle him warmly, Nature: he is cold.
No odour makes his nostrils quiver;
He sleeps in the sun, his hand on his breast
At peace. There are two red holes in his right side.
– Arthur Rimbaud
I, personally prefer this version.