“The Sleeper of the Valley,” in manuscript form, dates from October, 1870, and therefore conjures up an image linked to the Franco-Prussian War. Research has shown that there was no fighting in the area around Charleville at the time that the sonnet was written, and it is therefore unlikely that Rimbaud, who was just sixteen at the time, saw the scene described otherwise than in imagination.
This work is one of the best-known and most loved of Rimbaud’s poems. It was not published by the poet himself but first appeared in the Anthologie Lemerre, a collection compiled in 1888. The form of the poem is a traditional one, “The Sleeper of the Valley” being a sonnet in four stanzas, two quatrains followed by two triads. The rhyme scheme is abab cdcd eef ggf. The poet also alternates masculine and feminine rhymes, consonant sounds with vowel sounds in the final syllable of each line. The form, obeying these traditional metrical rules, makes the poem look something like an exercise. The first noun appearing in the poem, trou, or “hole,” used to describe the natural setting of the scene, comes back in the final line, where it serves as a revelation. Color images alone differentiate the green spot (trou) of the opening line from the two red holes in the soldier’s side in the final vision. The repetition of a simple word such as this one renders the formal organization of the sonnet even tighter.
The first stanza is a...
(The entire section is 606 words.)