France and its Poets: Middle Ages to the 19th Century
Author: Christiane Guise

Chapter 3
Jean-Arthur Rimbaud

Jean-Arthur Rimbaud  Le Dormeur du Val  The Sleeper in the Vale (1872)


Le Dormeur du Val, is a magnificent sonnet certainly inspired by Victor Hugo’s Souvenir de la nuit du quatre, Leconte de Lisle’s La Fontaine aux lianes, and Léon Dieux’s Dolorosa mater. Here, Rimbaud uses a classic form of poetry, the sonnet dear to Ronsard with a somewhat new pattern abab cdcd eef ggf; dismembering the alexandrin with rejets, contre-rejets, and punctuation, the poet gives life to his poem; and the clever alliterations and assonances skilfully change the atmosphere. 

First, the poet presents a panoramic view of an idyllic and lively landscape bathing in sunlight. In this quatrain, the two rejets ‘D’argent’ and ‘luit’ accentuate the brightness of the light; and the personified elements symbolise the easy-going character of youth. The singing river, the watchfulness of protective parents, the proud mountain and the shining sun, all convey a feeling of naïve cheerfulness, the pleasure of being alive and happy in a secure environment.

In the second quatrain, the photographer-poet uses his zoom and we can now see someone resting peacefully in the grass. In the diffused light, the colours are slightly cooler where the pale soldier sleeps; but again, the light suggests a peaceful atmosphere skilfully reproduced with the artful arrangement of the labial and liquid consonants at the beginning and the end of the verse as well as the assonances vert and lumière. In the tercets, the photographer-poet gets closer and closer.

Le Dormeur du Val is not only one of the greatest French masterpieces; literally it is the Chef d’oeuvre, par excellence.


The sleeper in the vale


It is a green hollow, where a river sings

Hanging here and there pretty silver tatters

On the grass; where the sun, on the proud mountain,

Shines: It is a little vale sparkling with light


A young soldier, his mouth opened, bareheaded,

And the nape of his neck in the cool blue cress.

Sleeps; he lays there in the grass, under the clouds,

Pale in his green bed where light is pouring down.


His feet in gladioli, he sleeps. Smiling as

An ill child would smile, he is taking a nap:

Nature, cuddle him warmly; he is cold.


The sweet scents do not make his nostril quiver;

He sleeps in the sun, his hand on his breast

Tranquil. He has two red holes in his right side.


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