Tag Archives: french poem

‘Le Dormeur du Val’ by Arthur 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.

Here is my translation:

It is a green hollow where a river sings, 
Its silver tatters clinging madly to the grass;
Where the sun, of the proud mountain,
Shines: it is a little valley frothing with sunbeams. 

A young soldier, mouth open, head bare, 
And his neck bathing in the cool blue cuckooflower,
Is sleeping; he is stretched out upon the grass, under the sky, 
Pale in his green bed where the light rains upon him.

His feet among the flags, he is sleeping. Smiling as
A sick child would smile, he is dozing:
Nature, hold him close and rock him: he is cold. 

Scents do not make his nostrils quiver.
He is sleeping in the sun, his hand on his calm
Chest. In his right side, he has two red holes.


I love this poem. As always, it is so hard to translate something as language-specific as a poem, but I wanted to have a go.

Images of nature seem to be very important in this poem. In the first verse in particular, for example, the river and the mountain are given human qualities; the river is “madly” clinging to the grass, and the mountain is “proud”. To me, these descriptions bring to mind the idea of a proud nation (the mountain) and the young soldiers of that nation (the river) clinging madly to the grass just as young men flung into war cling madly to their lives as they struggle to survive the war imposed upon them by the politicians.

It is so beautiful the way that we can almost believe the soldier is simply sleeping until the end of the poem, when we learn that he has “two red holes” in his side, and that he is dead. The description of the soldier until that final sentence is so peaceful: the valley is “frothing with sunbeams”, he is “sleeping” with his head in the “cool blue cuckooflower”, in a “green bed”. The image of the light raining upon him evokes, for me, an image of nature mourning the dead boy. For this is certainly a boy; the innocence of the soldier is very much made evident in this poem, as he smiles as “a sick child would smile”, and with his hand on his chest. Also, the mentioning of his feet being among the flags, brings with it the idea of patriotism and sacrifice.

My final thought is this: I feel that the image of the two red holes in the soldier’s right side are reminiscent of Christ’s wounds upon the cross. Rimbaud did not have to say that the soldier had two bullet holes in his side; he could easily have said one, or three… but two holes reminds me of Christ’s wounds in his hands when he was nailed to the cross. And this image reinforces that of an innocent victim, sacrificed for the pride of a nation (that proud mountain.)

Reviewed by Emily Ardagh

‘Demain, dès l’aube’ by Victor Hugo

Demain, dès l’aube, à l’heure où blanchit la campagne,
Je partirai. Vois-tu, je sais que tu m’attends.
J’irai par la forêt, j’irai par la montagne.
Je ne puis demeurer loin de toi plus longtemps.

Je marcherai les yeux fixés sur mes pensées,
Sans rien voir au dehors, sans entendre aucun bruit,
Seul, inconnu, le dos courbé, les mains croisées,
Triste, et le jour pour moi sera comme la nuit.

Je ne regarderai ni l’or du soir qui tombe,
Ni les voiles au loin descendant vers Harfleur,
Et quand j’arriverai, je mettrai sur ta tombe
Un bouquet de houx vert et de bruyère en fleur.

 I love this poem — it’s so sad and beautiful. I thought I would have a go at translating it because every time I read a translation of a French poem that I really love, I feel like I can do better. This one was no different when I looked up translations. I’m not saying that I’m a brilliant translator — far from it — it’s probably just down to personal preference. Anyway, here it is:

Tomorrow, at dawn, as the countryside pales,
I shall go. You see, I know you’ll be waiting.
I shall go by the forest, I shall go by the mountain.
I cannot be apart from you any longer.

I shall walk with my eyes fixed upon my thoughts,
Seeing nothing about me, hearing no sounds,
Alone, unknown, my back slouched, hands crossed,
Sad. And day for me will be like the night.

I shall watch neither the golden evening descend, 
Nor the far-off sails coming in to Harfleur,
And when I arrive, I shall place upon your grave, 
A bouquet of green holly and flowering heather. 

Reviewed by Emily Ardagh