The central idea of the poem is the death of a young soldier as a result of war. The body of the soldier is lying in a valley that is bursting with life. This accounts for the fact that even amidst death, life surrounds us. However, this can also mean that although life is beautiful and all around us, death is inevitable and sudden. Thus, the aim of life should be to embrace it. This poem also resounds his Libertine views as he did not believe in living cooped up in narrow ideologies and beliefs.
Themes of the Poem Asleep in the Valley
Sleep as Death: Death and sleep are used interchangeably in the poem. Death in this poem is represented as sleep; a sleep that is peaceful and never ending. Also, a sleep which is safe from all further harm. Just as Rimbaud believed in embracing life, he believed in accepting death. For him, death is sad, poignant even, but ultimately, death is like a saviour. It ends all suffering and finally brings us the peace we long for.
Futility of War: Inspite of the beautiful imagery of the poem, it is a poem about war and its futility. The protagonist of the poem is a young solider who is shot to dead, probably by soldiers against whom he was fighting. The ‘humming insects’ is representative of the flies and insects that hover around corpses in the battlefield. Undercutting the image of a beautiful valley, we can see the destruction wrought by war. The poem is a gentle irony against the sacrifice of thousands of soldiers for the sake of war. In this poem, there is no glory in war. However, there is glory in life. And that is why war is futile and mindless.
Beauty of Life: Amidst the wrecks of war, the poet manages to appreciate life in the form of sunlight, water, flowers, insects, and the grass on which the soldier is lying. Everything in the poem seems to be alive. He even turns the death of the soldier into a peaceful sleep to present life as the ultimate beauty.
Tone of the Poem
The tone of the poem is slow and poignant, but hopeful. The poet knows the tragedy well but he feels in his heart that although the death of the soldier is devastating, he will finally attain a peace that is lasting and free from all pain and dangers of war.
The poem is a war poem, with a different perspective. It focuses more on life than death. And it tells us to look for the blessings of life even in the midst of darkness of war and death. As an extension of the message, it tells us of the futility of war. It also tells us that death is not an enemy. On the contrary, it is a peaceful end.