Help me with Cyrano's monologue

I’ll blame my not being a native English speaker but the ooomph to his “Then, as I end the refrain, thrust home!” is somewhat lost to me. Here’s the full song:

CYRANO (Closes his eyes for an instant.)
Stop… Let me choose my rimes… Now!
Here we go—
(He suits the action to the word, throughout the following:)
Lightly I toss my hat away,
Languidly over my arm let fall
The cloak that covers my bright array—
Then out swords, and to work withal!
A Launcelot in his Lady’s hall…
A Spartacus, at the Hippodrome!..
I dally awhile with you, dear jackal,
Then, as I end the refrain, thrust home!
(The swords cross—the fight is on.)
Where shall I skewer my peacock?.. Nay,
Better for you to have shunned this brawl!—
Here, in the heart, thro’ your ribbons gay?
—In the belly, under your silken shawl?
Hark, how the steel rings musical!
Mark how my point floats, light as the foam,
Ready to drive you back to the wall,
Then, as I end the refrain, thrust home!

Ho, for a rime!.. You are white as whey—
You break, you cower, you cringe, you… crawl!
Tac!—and I parry your last essay:
So may the turn of a hand forestall
Life with its honey, death with its gall;
So may the turn of my fancy roam
Free, for a time, till the rimes recall,
Then, as I end the refrain, thrust home!
(He announces solemnly.)
Prince! Pray God, that is Lord of all,
Pardon your soul, for your time has come!
Beat—pass—fling you aslant, asprawl—
Then, as I end the refrain…
(He lunges; Valvert staggers back and falls into the arms of his friends. Cyrano recovers, and salutes.)
Thrust home! (I.456-484)

This sounds like a homework question, but I’ll bite.

First, this play was originally written in French. What you’re posting is a translation–Brian Hooker’s?–but there are other translations you can look at. Anthony Burgess did one and Lowell Blair did one. They might have translated that final line differently, though I suspect it will be the same because in English we often talk about the “thrust of an argument,” as if a discussion is swordplay, where one wins with a thrust that touches the opponent wherever it is one touches an opponent to win a swordfight. Cyrano is a master swordsman; he is also famously good at composing extemporaneous speeches and poems (in this case, a ballad).

So, he’s comparing the thrust of a swordfight to the thrust of an argument, which in this case is that he’s damn good at making up poems.

If that isn’t enough, there’s a lot of discussion on the internet, and all the translations come with lots of footnotes.

its about a duel of honor
does this help? Cyrano de Bergerac 1950) 'Nose Speech' 'Fencing Ballade' - YouTube


I’m on the wrong side of 50, and not feeling very wise at this point :D. But “refrain” in this case is the preceding verse, while the “rime” is the composition itself. So the “point” of his statement is stressed at the end of each stanza. That’s how it felt to me. Thanks.

The rimes or rhymes are the rhyming words at the ends of the lines, “away” and “array,” “fall” and “withal” and so on. I presume the rhyme scheme (ABAB for the first four lines, for example) is dictated by the ballad form, but he has to choose the actual rhyming words up front (so it’s not exactly 100% extemporaneous, he does put 10-15 seconds of work on it before he starts).

I don’t think it’s so much a duel of honor as Cyrano showing off for the woman he loves. He did rather pick that quarrel, after all. And defeating a pretty good swordsman while making up a poem is nothing if not showing off.

The whole thing makes MUCH more sense in the French. Just saying.

You can get a good feel of it if you watch the 1990 movie version with Gerard Depardieu. He makes quite an interesting “pun” (if you will) during the duel about the constant ending of the stanzas with “Je touche.”

Most English translations (including the one you’re referencing) are pretty poor at expressing what the French was saying, in my opinion. :confused:

I read it in French.

Ultimately, the point is this: Cyrano boasts he could compose a verse while swordfighting with a detractor. This is that verse – the last line says that he’d going to run his opponent through when he completes the poem. The poem describes how he’s fighting and what he’s doing as he does it. It’s pure braggadocio, and,of course, Cyrano pulls it off.