“The Sleeper in the Vale” by Arthur Rimbaud

Arthur Rimbaud was a visionary French poet who wrote all his startlingly original verse as a teenager. After the age of 20, he abandoned creative writing. He died shortly after his 37th birthday.

In a green hollow where a river sings,
Moss sways wildly in ribbons of silver;
The sun shines down from haughty peaks—
The bright little vale is foaming with rays.

A young soldier, mouth open, head bare,
And neck cooled by blue watercress,
Sleeps. He lays on the grass, under the sky,
Pale in his green bed as light drizzles down.

Feet in the gladiolas, he sleeps. Smiling as
A sick child will smile, he took a nap:
Nature cradles him warmly: he is cold.

The fragrant scents do not tempt his nose;
He sleeps in the sun, his hand on his chest,
Very still. There are two red holes in his right side.

—Translated by David Bowles
March 13, 2014

Original French

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.

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