top of page

Cyrano Sunday: Poetic Forms - The Duel in Verse cont.

Updated: Apr 7, 2023

Le Duel a L'Epee et au Poignard, plate 18 from "Les Caprices" (1617) by Jaques Callot from The Fine Arts Museums of San Fransico.

Le Duel a L'Epee et au Poignard, plate 18 from "Les Caprices" (1617) by Jaques Callot from The Fine Arts Museums of San Fransico.

Following up on our exploration of the poetic forms used in “Cyrano de Bergerac,” we were examining the “Duel in Verse” between Cyrano and the Viscount de Valvert which is written in a ballade form. A balladeis comprised of three stanzas of eight lines and a refrain of four. Each of the stanzas use the same rhyme scheme and each one ends with an identical refrain line.


Here is the second half of the ballade in the original French:


CYRANO: Il me manque une rime en eutre. . . Vous rompez, plus blanc qu'amidon? C'est pour me fournir le mot pleutre! --Tac! je pare la pointe dont Vous espériez me faire don;-- J'ouvre la ligne,--je la bouche. . . Tiens bien ta broche, Laridon! A la fin de l'envoi, je touche.

(Il annonce solennellement): Prince, demande à Dieu pardon! Je quarte du pied, j'escarmouche, Je coupe, je feinte. . . (Se fendant): Hé! là, donc! (Le vicomte chancelle; Cyrano salue): A la fin de l'envoi, je touche!


And here is our English translation:


CYRANO: I choose my rhymes with every swing Fit word to blow with utmost care You’re hoping for an opening But will not take me unaware I parry and evade the snare Binding the blade, I twist a bit… Look to your sword. It’s in midair! For when the refrain ends, I hit!


(he announces solemnly): To highest heaven make your prayer For mercy, God may answer it. But I coupéand feint and there! (He lunges and impales the Viscount.) The refrain’s ended and I hit! (The Viscount falls; Cyrano salutes him with his sword.)


Let’s explore how we got from there to here.


Il me manque une rime en eutre. . . Vous rompez, plus blanc qu'amidon? C'est pour me fournir le mot pleutre! --Tac! je pare la pointe dont Vous espériez me faire don;-- J'ouvre la ligne,--je la bouche. . . Tiens bien ta broche, Laridon! A la fin de l'envoi, je touche.


A literal translation of the fourth stanza would read something like this:


You break off, whiter than starch It is for me to give (you) the word coward Tac! I parry the point that You would hope to make me a gift I open the line, -- I the entrance Hey! good your rod, Laridon At the end of the refrain, I hit.


Rostand seems to set this entire stanza up so that he can use the name Laridon in the penultimate line. Laridon and César are names that come from the Fables of Jean de La Fontaine which would have been a very common book in both the 17th and the 19th centuries, something like how well Aesop’s fables are known in the English-speaking world. César and Laridon were the names of dogs. César embodied the characters of virtue, while Laridon embodied vice, gluttony, and overreaching one’s capacity. Unfortunately, Laridon is another allusion that is no longer in common use so that lovely insult is lost on modern audiences.


In our translation we had to let the first two lines diverge from the French in a desperate attempt to maintain the rhyme. We chose to base our translation around the third and fourth lines with “I parry and evade the snare,” echoing “I parry the point that you would make me a gift. In the 5th line Cyrano is setting a trap for Valvert by giving him a false opening to entice him to attack, and then something obviously happens that causes Cyrano to say “Tiens!” (hey). We chose to interpret that as Cyrano closing the trap and disarming Valvert.


I choose my rhymes with every swing Fit word to blow with utmost care You’re hoping for an opening But will not take me unaware I parry and evade the snare Binding the blade, I twist a bit… Look to your sword. It’s in midair! For when the refrain ends, I hit!


Finally in the last stanza we return to close convergence with the French:


(Il annonce solennellement): Prince, demande à Dieu pardon! Je quarte du pied, j'escarmouche, Je coupe, je feinte. . . (Se fendant): Hé! là, donc! (Le vicomte chancelle; Cyrano salue): A la fin de l'envoi, je touche!

A literal translation of this stanza would be:

(He announces solemnly) Prince, demand of God pardon! I make a quarter turn of the foot, I spar I coupé, I feint (He makes a wound) Hey, There, So! (The viscount falls, Cyrano salutes him) At the end of the refrain I hit.


So as a translator we can use almost all of this stanza. We can get in the ask God for mercy (with a little sarcastic turn of our own) And then we can use Rostand’s fencing terms directly as they are still in use in modern fencing and can be directly illustrated in the fight. We take the liberty of moving the actual impalement and fall to just after the speeches that reference them and then the only part we are missing is the second line of the refrain which is the least interesting part of the stanza.


To highest heaven make your prayer For mercy, God may answer it. But I coupé and feint and there! (He lunges and impales the Viscount.) The refrain’s ended and I hit! (The Viscount falls; Cyrano salutes him with his sword.)


Finally, we have the whole of the poem within a poem. It keeps the meter and the rhyme scheme of the original and makes sense both from a fencing and an acting standpoint. But, has it drifted too far away from the French?


As a translator, you often wonder about the liberties you take with text to make things flow and be understandable. Is it too much? So, again we go to look at the giants that have gone before us and see that in both the Brian Hooker and Anthony Burgess translations, they have veered away from the original in the exact same places that we have to avoid the same problems. If those giant intellects made the same choices, then that is some justification for our own decisions.


Until the next Cyrano Sunday.



8 views0 comments

Comments


bottom of page