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.











Oh what a war

This haibun is the first poem for this Armistice Day, for Frank Tassone’s prompt.

Well, here we are, waiting in the mild sunshine, the clouds scudding past from the south undecided—rain, or just passing through—for the sirens to sound and possibly the church bell to ring if they can find anyone to do it. The grass is golden in the sun, lush and green beneath the morning light, and the sky is blue. Trees dance, oaks hanging onto their greenery, the poplars tossing gold largesse of leaves. And when the sirens sound the eleventh minute, and some chasseur can’t restrain his trigger finger, and the bells finish pealing, and we all speak again with voices full of relief, what then? Another war over, a new one just begun, because, to paraphrase the song, those who don’t want it, don’t count.

always the sun

the moon the stars and autumn

that peels back

to the heart of things  

H is for…

Apologies if this is a rant, but we are talking about massive destruction of human life. For the dverse prompt, Hiroshima and all its associations.

I have no wartime anecdotes, no losses to report. I am one of the lucky people whose family was never in the wrong place at the wrong time. I have never lived under occupation, been conscripted or deported, but that changes nothing of my hatred of war and more specifically, those who monger it, profit from it and revel in it. There is no point in hoping for peace, no point hoping that we will ‘learn’ from the horrors of the past, because ‘we’ do not count. Those who count see only the aircraft sold, the submarines ordered, the jobs created, prosperity and their continued popularity. Somebody made money out of producing Zyklon B after all.

To my knowledge, no politician who has cried out his splendid, uplifting speeches to resounding applause calling for a ‘just’ war, has ever joined the front line to fight it.

In the summer field

a hawk swoops­—

the whine of missiles

Borrowed wings

This is for the Secret Keeper’s writing prompt. The words are:


Photo ©Mstyslav Chernov


I’ll borrow any wings to fly away,

Among the clouds where silence reigns to soar,

And leave below the world of blood and war.


I’ll borrow any wings, of gull or hawk,

The land is red and weeping, full of fear,

And safety beckons in the blue so clear.


I’ll borrow any wings though my heart bleeds.

To leave, you say and not to fight is wrong,

I should stand up, resist, I should be strong.


I’ll borrow any wings for some are made

To fight, and some can only stand and die,

Or leap into the cold, unsmiling sky.


These wings are only borrowed, I’ll return,

When the land is cleansed, peace come anew—

I used up all my courage when I flew.

Microfiction: Revolution



After bringing war to the gates of the capital, the king, taking his heir and his most valued advisors floated in his specially commissioned Montgolfier high out of range of the guns and safely over the heads of the besieging army. The people murmured angrily. They were starving and the enemy offered no quarter, except on one condition, which the king had effectively sabotaged.

His wife watched the Montgolfier, draped in the royal colours, as it grew smaller and smaller against the sky. She had stayed with her children, the expendable ones, and the people. Not out of duty—she was a mother, not a soldier—but out of love for the babies, her own and those of all the mothers trapped in the city who would not fit in the Montgolfier. Albert had nodded solemnly when she told him of her decision, but she noticed his eyes shift anxiously to the clouds and the storm rolling in from the plains. He itched to be gone.

He was gone now. So small she couldn’t even see him. And little Albert would be cowering on the floor of the basket with his hands over his head in all probability. For a moment, the smoke from a bursting shell hid the balloon, and she held her breath. It must be close to the hills by now. The smoke cleared. The Montgolfier hung in the sky over the highest peak, low enough to…

She gripped the rifle harder and raised her hand in sign of farewell. She didn’t hear, but she saw the flash of the mortar instants before the balloon exploded. The image of a pale little boy flashed through her mind, the child she had never been allowed to love, but her eyes hardened, and she raised the rifle high.

“The rebels have him!” she shouted, and watched with bitter satisfaction the expression of utter astonishment of the troops on the walls. She waited for the wave of cheering from the people to die down before she added, “Send out an envoy to the enemy. We can give them what they want. It is time to sue for peace.”

A general stormed and blustered, but was overpowered before he could speak. Another ordered his adjutant to shoot her down, but a bullet in the back of the general’s head stayed the adjutant’s hand before he drew the pistol. She stood on the palace wall and stared across the sea of hungry people and her lips set in a determined line. They would have justice. If Albert survived the crash, he would pay for his war, her loveless life, the pale child. And she would not shed a single tear.

Microfiction #writephoto: Tryst

This is for Sue Vincent’s #writephoto prompt. Inspiration didn’t come immediately for this one. When I started the story, hesitantly, just setting the scene, I didn’t know what tale the character was going to tell. I let her tell it in her own way, and she did.



We used to meet here every evening, just as the sun was going down. If my father had known he would have disowned me. If your father had known…I don’t suppose he would have cared. Your honour wasn’t at stake after all. The park was well kept in those days, and families would crowd around the bandstand on fine Saturday afternoons. Often we would see you, your mother’s arm tucked in yours, and you would tip your hat with a polite smile, but the twinkle in your eye was just for me.

The evenings were ours. Bats flitted back and forth between the shadows and the light in the sky. The moon lit our way through the crowding rhododendrons, and you would take me in your arms, so firm and strong, and we would kiss and make promises, hot and fervent.

That was before the war, before we could be wed, before we had time to know one another. It was a time of dreams, plans and unknown futures. I never recovered from your death. They told me I should be ashamed, that the menfolk were dying in their thousands to protect us, and I had no business crying. But I cried. I cried so much Father wanted to have me locked up. In the end, nobody had the time to concern themselves with me. When Fred was killed, Mother retired to her room and never came out. That I floated around the house like a wraith was neither here nor there. The death of a brother, a son, an heir was a tragic loss. That I was still alive was almost too hard for Mother to bear.

I still come to the bandstand though it has been silent for so long now. I still wait for you to find your way here from that field in Flanders where your life ended. Perhaps you never will. Perhaps your spirit was dispersed like your body and you wander among the stars now, looking for me and waiting. I watch the stars on summer nights and try to make out your face, but the glitter gets in my eyes, and the tears blur the sky. They say I was mad. Perhaps I was. Perhaps this is what happens to mad people; they can never let go. The wheel goes round and round beyond death, beyond longing.

I part the rhododendrons and climb the wormy steps to the bandstand. The bats flit back and forth, and the stars glitter like the light in your eyes. Perhaps this will be the evening you come to me.

It’s no game

For the Secret Keeper’s writing challenge, another cascade poem and the theme is still one that is uppermost in my mind at this time. Old wars and recent atrocities.

This week’s words (I’ve used a couple of synonyms):



It’s no game, say the guns to the men in suits,

It’s no game when the bullets fall like hail,

Just watch the blood red flowers bend and fall.


Loud are the last cries and the cannons’ roar,

When earth turns to mud and day eternal night,

It’s no game, say the guns to the men in suits.


Sad is not the word for the ocean of tears,

The years and years of sorrow for those left behind,

It’s no game when the bullets fall like hail.


Wind shakes the poppies with the voices of the dead,

But there’s nobody listening, no more to be said,

Just watch the blood red flowers bend and fall.

Poppy dreams


Poppy, poppy burning bright,

Light a soldier home tonight,

Light the way back through the mud,

Through the bones and through the blood.


Poppy, poppy, crushed and torn,

On that last momentous morn,

When the guns at last were still,

There were so few men left to kill.


Poppy, poppy flaming red,

As the hearts of all the dead,

Red the blood that flows in streams,

Peace the stuff of poppy dreams.