ASLEEP IN THE VALLEY
ASLEEP IN THE VALLEY
Arthur Rimbaud wrote the fourteen-lined poem, Asleep In The Valley in 1870, when he was merely a boy of 16. At that time a war was going on between France and Germany, and every day many young soldiers of both countries were prematurely losing their lives on the battlefield. It was Rimbaud’s habit to visit the fields and have a sympathetic look at the dead soldiers. During one such visit to a valley, he found a very young soldier lying dead, open-mouthed, in a bed of ferns, with two bullet wounds in his side. The scene deeply moved him and he gave poetic expression to his feelings in this sad but beautiful lyric.
The poem was originally written in French and its French title is Le Dormeur du Val, which literally means the (male) sleeper of the valley. The title in English, Asleep in the Valley slightly changes the meaning and does not indicate whether the sleeper is a male person or a female one. The content of the poem, however, makes it clear that the sleeper is a young soldier. He has fallen asleep forever because he is killed by two bullets in his side. The title draws attention to both the sleeper and the valley in which he is lying in his last sleep.
The valley is green and a silvery stream is flowing through it. The field is ferny and it provides a soft bed to the sleeper. There are also flowers growing around him. But the sleeper is lying open-mouthed and unconscious of the surroundings. But at last, he is covered with peace in a peaceful atmosphere. Yet it is a pity that the peace has been earned through death. The context of the violence of war is in sharp contrast to the gentle and beautiful valley. The title is thus highly suggestive and not merely descriptive.
It is a beautiful green valley, through which a silvery stream flows on. There are lush green fields of grass on both sides of it. The valley is lit up by sun rays falling from the top of a mountain. In it, a very young soldier is found asleep, with his mouth open, and his head resting on a pile of ferns. His grassy bed is warmed by the sun, but he looks pale. Some flowers are growing at his feet stretched on the ground. The poet feels that when the soldier used to smile, the smile indicated his gentle, innocent nature. He wants nature to keep the youth warm and let him enjoy the peace of his last sleep. He notices the two bullet wounds on the side of the soldier’s body and realises that he has been killed in the war.
A CRITICAL ANALYSIS :
The poem begins with an idyllic description of nature. The first stanza beautifully describes a green valley, lit up by the sunrays and decorated with a flowing silvery stream. The next stanza draws our attention to the lone sleeper in the valley. A very young soldier lies stretched on the grassy bed, with his head on a ferny pillow and his mouth open. We are made to notice his paleness which is in contrast to the warmth the sun has given to his bed. The flowers around his stretched feet also add to the visual charm of the scene. For a moment the poet imagines this very young soldier smile and feels that his nature was as gentle and innocent as a child’s.
He appeals to nature to keep the sleeper warm and preserve the peace around him and see that the humming insects do not disturb his sleep. Having completed his picture of the sleeper, peacefully sleeping with a hand on his breast, the poet reveals in the very last line that the soldier has been killed in war: ‘In his side, there are two red holes.’
His is an anti-war poem of deep pathos. There are pity and sympathy for the untimely loss of youthful lives in war. It reminds us of Wilfred Owen’s poems. Very sensitively and charmingly the poet draws an atmosphere of peace and beauty. His appreciation of Nature is comparable with that of romantic poets. But the valley of peace, beauty and warmth acts as an ironic contrast to the violence of war which destroys young lives and reduces them to senseless corpses. The poet’s appeal to Nature -‘Ah, Nature, keep him warm; he may catch a cold.’ – brings tears in our eyes.
Thus the poet’s love of Nature, which is so prominent in the opening stanza, is gradually overshadowed by his pity for the victim of war. There is no loud protest, but the poem has a poignantly touching human appeal.
There is a vividness in the imagery of the poem, such as long strands of silver on the bright grass and warm, green, sun-soaked bed. The poet avoids rhetorical expressions as far as possible. The lyric ends with a dramatic revelation in the last line, that the sleeper is dead. It reminds us of the end of Browning’s “Incident of the French Camp’. Rimbaud’s economy of expression makes the poem highly effective. Though it is written in fourteen lines, the poem is not a sonnet, because the poet does not observe any specific rhyme scheme.
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