By Monique Palomares
November 11th, the end of WW I: it’s a public holiday in France. In every town, there’s a civil ceremony. The mayor, and one or more of the deputy mayors, place flowers at the war memorial. Each town has its own ceremony, even VERY small ones. The mayor tells the names of the soldiers killed during the war, and after each name, someone answers back “Dead for France”. Their names are carved on the memorials. The ceremonies used to include WW I Veterans that we call “Les Poilus”, meaning “The Hairy Ones”, because ‘avoir du poil’ (to be hairy) meant at that time ‘to be manly, brave, virile’.
Usually, the fifth graders of the towns’ schools attend the ceremony with their teachers: they’re sometimes the ones answering back the mayor’s call, and they sing the national anthem. Sometimes, they recite a poem. One of them is often chosen, it’s Le dormeur du val written by Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891) in October 1870 (during the war between France and Germany).
Here’s Le Dormeur du val in French, with an English translation and two recordings…
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,
Pale 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 plus frissonner sa narine;
Il dort dans le soleil, la main sur sa poitrine
Tranquille. Il a deux trous rouges au coté droit
Here’s an English translation by Lisa Yannucci…
The Sleeper in the Valley
There’s a recess in the greenery, where the river sings
Tangling wildly in the tattered grass
Silvery; where the sun from the proud mountain
Glimmers; It’s a little valley that sparkles with light.
A young soldier, mouth open, head bare,
And nape bathing in the cool blue cresses
Sleeping; he’s spread out on the grass, under the clouds,
Pale on his green bed where the light rains down.
Feet in the gladiolas, he sleeps. Smiling like
A sick child would smile, he dozes.
Warmly lull him Nature, he’s cold.
The scents no longer make his nose quiver
He sleeps in the sun, hand on his chest
Tranquil, he has two red holes on his right side.
Here’s a site with English translations of other Rimbaud Poems
This article was posted on Thursday, November 10th, 2005 at 8:53 pm and is filed under Armistice Day, Arthur Rimbaud, France, French, French Poems, Holidays Around the World, Languages, Le dormeur du val, Poetry. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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