|Mightier Than The Sword
A Swordsman, A Poet, A Tilter at Windmills...
"Cyrano de Bergerac" is a five-act play by Edmund Rostand, written and performed originally in French. There have been any number of translations into English, but the best and most stunning is the one by Brian Hooker. Hooker infuses the beauty of which the English language is capable into the English version; in my opinion, no other translation can match his.
The setting of the play is in France, from 1640 to 1655. "Cyrano de Bergerac" is the story of a brilliant and courageous soldier, a poet, a swordsman, and a man disfigured by a remarkably ugly nose.
He passionately loves a beautiful woman named Roxanne, but never tells her. She, in turn, falls in love with a handsome young recruit in Cyrano's regiment and begs Cyrano to protect him when they go off to war.
Christian, her lover, is a handsome and decent young man, but inarticulate and clumsy with words, and so, over the years, Cyrono pens letters for the young soldier, written over Christian's signature, into which Cyrano himself pours out his own love for Roxanne.
This is a classic tale of unrequited love. The selections I give here are two of the most famous in the play.
The "Nose" Speech
Cyrano has just banished a very bad actor from the stage in the middle of a play, by heckling him amusingly and unmercifully. A Meddler protests and...
You may go now.
You may go
or, tell me why are you staring at my nose!
Stepping up to him
Does it astonish you?
Your grace misunderstands my
Is it long and soft And dangling like a trunk?
I never said __
Or crooked, like an owls beak?
A pimple ornaments the end of it?
Or a fly parading up and down? What is this portent?
But I have been careful not to look!
And why not? If you please?
It disgusts you, then?
My dear sir--
Does its color appear to you unwholesome?
Oh! By no means!
Or its form. obscene?
Not in the least--
Then why assume This deprecating manner? Possibly
You find it just a trifle large?
Oh no! Small, very small, infinitesimal
What? How? You accuse me of absurdity?
Smallmy nose? Why
My nose! You pug, you knob, you button-head,
Know that I glory in this nose of mine,
For a great nose indicate a great man
Genial, courteous, intellectual,
Virile, courageous as I am and such
As you poor wretch will never dare to be
Even in imagination. For that face
That blank, inglorious concavity
Which my right hand finds
Cyrano strikes the Meddler
on top of you
Is as devoid of pride, of poetry,
Of soul, of picturesqueness, of contour,
Of character of NOSE in short as that
takes Meddler by the shoulders and turns him around, suiting action to words
Which at the end of that limp spine of yours
My left foot
Help! The Guard!!!
Take notice, all
Who find this feature of my countenance
A theme for comedy! When the humorist
Is noble, then my custom is to show
Appreciation proper to his rank
More heartfelt and more pointed
Enter: The Comte de Guiche and retinue
This fellow grows tiresome Will no one put him in his place?
VALVERT (a toady to de Guiche)
Observe! I myself will proceed To put him in his place
Walking up to Cyrano
Ah your nose.. ahem
Your nose is. rather large!
Is that all?
VALVERT turning away
Ah, no, young sir!
You are too simple. Why, you might have said
Oh, a great many things! Mon dieu, why waste
Your opportunity? For example, thus: --
AGGRESSIVE: I, sir, if that nose were mine,
Id have it amputated on the spot!
FRIENDLY: How do you drink with such a nose?
You ought to have a cup made specially!
DESCRIPTIVE: Tis a rock a crag a cape
A cape? say rather, a peninsula!
INQUISITIVE: What is that receptacle
A razor case or a portfolio?
KINDLY: Ah, do you love the little birds
So much that when they come and sing to you,
You give them this to perch on?
INSOLENT: Sir, when you smoke, the neighbors must suppose
Your chimney is on fire.
CAUTIOUS: Take care
A weight like that might make you top-heavy.
THOUGHTFUL: Somebody fetch my parasol
Those delicate colors fade so in the sun!
PEDANTIC: Does not Aristophanes
Mention a mythologic monster called
Surely we have here the original!
FAMILIAR: Well, old torchlight! Hang your hat
Over that chandelier it hurts my eyes.
ELOQUENT: When it blows, the typhoon howls,
And the clouds darken.
DRAMATIC: When it bleeds
The Red Sea!
ENTERPRISING: What a sign for some perfumer!
LYRIC: Hark the horn of Roland calls
To summon Charlemagne!
SIMPLE: When do they unveil the monument?
RESPECTFUL: Sir, I recognize in you
A man of parts, a man of prominence
RUSTIC: Eh? What? Call that a nose? Naw Naw
I be no fool like what you think I be
That theres a cucumber!
MILITARY: point against cavalry!
PRACTICAL: Why not a lottery?
With this for the grand prize?
Or parodying Faustus in the play
Was this the nose that launched a thousand ships
And burned the topless towers of Ilium?
These, my dear sir, are things you might have said
Had you some tinge of letters, or of wit
To color your discourse. But wit not so,
You never had an atom and of letters,
You need but three to write you down Aye Ess Ess
Moreover if you had the invention, here,
Before these folks, to make a jest of me
Be sure you would not then articulate
The twentieth part of half a syllable
Of the beginning! For I say these things
Lightly enough myself, about myself,
But, I allow none else to utter them.
The "No Thank You" Speech
Cyrano de Bergerac, a poet, swordsman, and man made ugly by a very large nose
De Guiche, a rich dandy, enemy of Cyrano
Le Bret: fellow soldier and close friend of CYRANOS.
DE GUICHE: (recovering his self-control after being insulted by CYRANO)
Have you read Don Quixote?
I have ~ and found myself the hero.
Be so good as to read once more
The chapter of the windmills.
Windmills, remember, if you fight with them ~
My enemies change, then, with every wind?
~ may swing round their huge arms and cast you
Down into the mire!
Or up ~ among the stars!
DE GUICHE goes out. We see him get into his sedan chair. LE BRET joins CYRANO.
Cyrano: (saluting with burlesque politeness those who go out)
You have done it now! You have made
Your fortune! Hah! A bad enemy, that one.
You made him look a fool!
There you go again, growling!
At least this latest pose of yours ~ ruining every chance
That comes your way ~ becomes exaggerated ~
Very well, then. I exaggerate!
Yes. I exaggerate! On principle. There are things
In this world a man does well to carry to extremes.
Stop trying to be Three Musketeers in one!
Fortune and glory ~
What would you have me do?
Seek for the patronage of some great man,
And like a creeping vine on a tall tree
Crawl upward, where I cannot stand alone?
No thank you! Dedicate, as others do,
Poems to pawnbrokers? Be a buffoon
In the vile hope of teasing out a smile
On some cold face? No thank you! East a toad
For breakfast every morning? Make my knees
Callous, and cultivate a supple spine, ~
Wear out my belly groveling in the dust?
No thank you! Scratch the back of any swine
That roots up gold for me? Tickle the horns
Of Mammon with my left hand, while my right
Too proud to know his partners business,
Takes in the fee? No thank you! Use the fire
God gave me to burn incense all day long
No thank you! Publish verses at my own
Expense? No thank you! Be the patron saint
Of a small group of literary souls
Who dine together every Tuesday? No,
I thank you! Shall I labor night and day
To build a reputation on one song,
And never write another? Shall I find
True genius only among Geniuses,
Palpitate over little paragraphs,
And struggle to insinuate my name
In the columns of the Mercury:?
No thank you! Calculate, scheme, be afraid,
Love more to make a visit than a poem,
Seek introductions, favors, influences? ~
No thank you! No, I thank you! And again
I thank you! But
To sing, to laugh, to dream,
To walk in my own way, and be alone,
Free, with an eye to see things as they are,
A voice that means manhood ~ to cock my hat
Where I choose ~ At a word, at a Yes, a No,
To fight ~ or write. To travel any road
Under the sun, under the stars, nor doubt
If fame or fortune lie beyond the bourne ~
Never to make a line I have not heard
In my own heart; yet, with all modesty
To say: My soul, be satisfied with flowers,
With fruit, with weeds even; but gather them
In the one garden you may call your own.
So, when I win some triumph, by some chance,
Render no share to Caesar ~ in a word,
I am too proud to be a parasite,
And if my nature wants the germ that grows
Towering to heaven like the mountain pine,
Or, like the oak, sheltering multitudes ~
I stand, not high it may be ~
But, I stand alone!
Alone! Yes! But why stand against the world?
What devil has possessed you now, to go
Everywhere making yourself enemies?
Watching you other people making friends
Everywhere ~ as a dog makes friends! I mark
The manner of these canine courtesies
And think: My friends are of a cleaner breed;
Here comes ~ thank God! ~ another enemy!
But this is madness!
Method, let us say.
It is my pleasure to displease. I love
Hatred. Imagine how it feels to face
The volley of a thousand angry eyes ~
The bile of envy and the froth of fear
Spattering little drops about me ~ You ~
Good nature all around you, soft and warm ~
You are like those Italians, in great cowls
Comfortable and loose ~ Your chin sinks down
Into the folds, your shoulders droop. But I ~
The Spanish ruff I wear around my throat
Is like a ring of enemies; hard, proud,
Each point another pride, another thorn ~
So that I hold myself erect perforce
Wearing the hatred of the common herd
Haughtily, the harsh collar of Old Spain,
At once a fetter and ~ a halo!
LE BRET (after a silence, then sadly)
Tell this to all the world ~ And then, to me
Say, very softly, that she loves you not.
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