Mercury day poetry: Cyrano’s death
In the ever-so-wonderful clip from Cheers we posted earlier that featured Tim Miller, the character Frazier recites lines from Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac.
We’re all familiar with it, right? Dude with the big nose, but lots of learning and lots of bravery. Maybe you saw the movie version with Gerard Depardieu (or, even better, the one with Jose Ferrer), or the updated version with Steve Martin (who maybe should have been nominated for an Oscar, but that’s another story).
Well, we’ll jump right to the denouement. It is great, great stuff. Makes me want to see the Ferrer version again. Here’s the whole of the final scene:
The same. Le Bret and Ragueneau.
What madness! Here? I knew it well!
CYRANO (smiling and sitting up):
He has brought his death by coming, Madame.
Ah, then! that faintness of a moment since. . .?
Why, true! It interrupted the ‘Gazette:’
. . .Saturday, twenty-sixth, at dinner-time,
Assassination of De Bergerac.
(He takes off his hat; they see his head bandaged.)
What says he? Cyrano!–His head all bound!
Ah, what has chanced? How?–Who?. . .
’To be struck down,
Pierced by sword i’ the heart, from a hero’s hand!’
That I had dreamed. O mockery of Fate!
–Killed, I! of all men–in an ambuscade!
Struck from behind, and by a lackey’s hand!
’Tis very well. I am foiled, foiled in all,
Even in my death.
Ah, Monsieur!. . .
CYRANO (holding out his hand to him):
Weep not so bitterly!. . .What do you now,
RAGUENEAU (amid his tears):
Trim the lights for Moliere’s stage.
Yes; but I shall leave to-morrow.
I cannot bear it!–Yesterday, they played
’Scapin’–I saw he’d thieved a scene from you!
What! a whole scene?
Oh, yes, indeed, Monsieur,
The famous one, ‘Que Diable allait-il faire?’
Moliere has stolen that?
Tut! He did well!. . .
How went the scene? It told–I think it told?
Ah! how they laughed!
Look you, it was my life
To be the prompter every one forgets!
That night when ‘neath your window Christian spoke
–Under your balcony, you remember? Well!
There was the allegory of my whole life:
I, in the shadow, at the ladder’s foot,
While others lightly mount to Love and Fame!
Just! very just! Here on the threshold drear
Of death, I pay my tribute with the rest,
To Moliere’s genius,–Christian’s fair face!
(The chapel-bell chimes. The nuns are seen passing down the alley at the
back, to say their office):
Let them go pray, go pray, when the bell rings!
ROXANE (rising and calling):
CYRANO (holding her fast):
Call no one. Leave me not;
When you come back, I should be gone for aye.
(The nuns have all entered the chapel. The organ sounds):
I was somewhat fain for music–hark! ’tis come.
Live, for I love you!
No, In fairy tales
When to the ill-starred Prince the lady says
’I love you!’ all his ugliness fades fast–
But I remain the same, up to the last!
I have marred your life–I, I!
You blessed my life!
Never on me had rested woman’s love.
My mother even could not find me fair:
I had no sister; and, when grown a man,
I feared the mistress who would mock at me.
But I have had your friendship–grace to you
A woman’s charm has passed across my path.
LE BRET (pointing to the moon, which is seen between the trees):
Your other lady-love is come.
I loved but once, yet twice I lose my love!
Hark you, Le Bret! I soon shall reach the moon.
To-night, alone, with no projectile’s aid!. . .
What are you saying?
I tell you, it is there,
There, that they send me for my Paradise,
There I shall find at last the souls I love,
LE BRET (rebelliously):
No, no! It is too clumsy, too unjust!
So great a heart! So great a poet! Die
Like this? what, die. . .?
Hark to Le Bret, who scolds!
LE BRET (weeping):
Dear friend. . .
CYRANO (starting up, his eyes wild):
What ho! Cadets of Gascony!
The elemental mass–ah yes! The hic. . .
His science still–he raves!
Said. . .
Mais que diable allait-il faire,
Mais que diable allait-il faire dans cette galere?. . .
Rhymer, brawler, and musician,
Famed for his lunar expedition,
And the unnumbered duels he fought,–
And lover also,–by interposition!–
Here lies Hercule Savinien
De Cyrano de Bergerac,
Who was everything, yet was naught.
I cry you pardon, but I may not stay;
See, the moon-ray that comes to call me hence!
(He has fallen back in his chair; the sobs of Roxane recall him to reality; he
looks long at her, and, touching her veil):
I would not bid you mourn less faithfully
That good, brave Christian: I would only ask
That when my body shall be cold in clay
You wear those sable mourning weeds for two,
And mourn awhile for me, in mourning him.
I swear it you!. . .
CYRANO (shivering violently, then suddenly rising):
Not there! what, seated?–no!
(They spring toward him):
Let no one hold me up–
(He props himself against the tree):
Only the tree!
It comes. E’en now my feet have turned to stone,
My hands are gloved with lead!
(He stands erect):
But since Death comes,
I meet him still afoot,
(He draws his sword):
And sword in hand!
ROXANE (half fainting):
(All shrink back in terror.)
Why, I well believe
He dares to mock my nose? Ho! insolent!
(He raises his sword):
What say you? It is useless? Ay, I know
But who fights ever hoping for success?
I fought for lost cause, and for fruitless quest!
You there, who are you!–You are thousands!
I know you now, old enemies of mine!
(He strikes in air with his sword):
Have at you! Ha! and Compromise!
Prejudice, Treachery!. . .
Parley? No, never! You too, Folly,–you?
I know that you will lay me low at last;
Let be! Yet I fall fighting, fighting still!
(He makes passes in the air, and stops, breathless):
You strip from me the laurel and the rose!
Take all! Despite you there is yet one thing
I hold against you all, and when, to-night,
I enter Christ’s fair courts, and, lowly bowed,
Sweep with doffed casque the heavens’ threshold blue,
One thing is left, that, void of stain or smutch,
I bear away despite you.
(He springs forward, his sword raised; it falls from his hand; he staggers,
falls back into the arms of Le Bret and Ragueneau.)
ROXANE (bending and kissing his forehead):
’Tis?. . .
CYRANO (opening his eyes, recognizing her, and smiling):
In Ashtanga, panache is the handstands, the hovering jump-throughs, the tick-tock back bends. See how it all comes together?
Posted by Steve