Le dormeur du val

I’m reposting this poem by Rimbaud and my translation, written last year, in a small tribute to the victims of war.


This is a poem all my children learnt by heart at primary school. And strangely enough, they all loved it. I don’t know much French verse but I do like this one. Here is the original poem, by Arthur Rimbaud, courtesy of Poésie française, followed by my attempt at a translation.

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 in the valley


There’s a haven of green where the river loud,

Clasps raggedy banks and between them teams

Silver; where sun over mountains proud,

Shines: a small vale brimming bright with beams.


A young soldier, lips parted, cap in the grass,

His head bathed in the damp of blue cress stalks tall,

Sleeps in the dew while the white clouds pass,

Pale on his bed where the sunbeams fall.


His feet in the flowers, he smiles in his sleep,

As a sick child would smile, when he ceases to weep.

Coax the cold from his bones, Nature, with him bide.


No suave, wild scents disturb his rest;

He lies in the sun, one hand on his chest,

Quite peaceful. He has two red holes in his side.











Published by

Jane Dougherty

I used to do lots of things I didn't much enjoy. Now I am officially a writer. It's what I always wanted to be.

22 thoughts on “Le dormeur du val”

  1. A poignant poem, and quite fitting for this day. I’m surprised the kids at school liked it, but then, I have a different perspective on death now that I’m older and have seen more of it.

  2. Beautiful poem Jane. Where you live, the children would be more exposed to the gruesome memories of war.

      1. I just finished watching our Remembrance Day Ceremony here in Canada. I also watched a bit of Armistice, Jour du Souvenir en France. Many world leaders were there to pay respect to this day.

      2. I did not get to see it. I saw our own Prime Minister (Trudeau) and it was an ok speech. Apparently Trump skipped one of the meetings they were having…He is so ignorant that person.

      3. It was raining. I think that is the most insulting insensitive thing he could have done, when you know what the trenches were like and how those men lived and died.

      4. So true Jane. He is a big spoiled brat. It was such a beautiful day watching all the ceremonies. I had some good crying spells too, it touched my heart in so many ways.

      5. Perhaps the true awfulness of the first world war was that none of the combattants knew what they were fighting for. There was no ideology involved, and no direct threat to most of them. But once the generals got their teeth into it nothing would stop them. Such a terrible waste. And if you’re looking for the ’cause’ of Bolshevism, look no further.

      1. I agree Jane! But not poetry slam. ;-(
        Thank you for sharing this wonderful poem. It really meet the day of remembrance. Over 20 years in the past i visited the cemetery of Verdun. It was horrible to see the white grave crosses and the bone house. Michael

  3. Thank you for this beautiful peace Jane. It is a perfect example of the true horrors of war the quiet gentle lead to find the boy is dead.
    I think poetry from the wars are the best way for children to learn about those awful times.
    Hubby spent the day up at the Cenotaph London doing security and marshalling the veteran soldiers. A busy long day but rewarding, I went into our little town and watch the parade. 💜

    1. In our town they had hung up white paper ‘flags’ along the main street each one with the name of one of the war dead. There’s always a ceremony at the war memorial. Every town, and in the north every tiny village has a war memorial. Every public building and school has a plaque commemorating the students or employees who died. They’ve never forgotten.

      1. It is the same here there are lists of the dead everywhere and our town has been decorated with crochet poppies of all sizes it is the same here too. I think the younger generations are beginning to see how much was sacrificed for them and they are grateful. 💜💜

      2. I don’t know how people see the first world war. I think it’s more as a huge waste of life than anything else. It was barely twenty years before they got the Germans back in occupation again.

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