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Twenty Ways to Insult a Nose -- Edmond Rostand

As suggested by several readers:
(Poem #626) Twenty Ways to Insult a Nose
DE GUICHE: Will no one put him down?. . .
THE VISCOUNT: No one? But wait!
  I'll treat him to ... one of my quips! ... See here! ...
(He goes up to Cyrano, who is watching him. With a conceited air):
  Sir, your nose is ... hmm ... it is ... very big!
CYRANO (gravely): Very!
THE VISCOUNT (laughing): Ha!
CYRANO (imperturbably): Is that all?
THE VISCOUNT: What do you mean?
CYRANO: Ah no! young blade!  That was a trifle short!
 You might have said at least a hundred things
 By varying the tone ... like this, suppose, ...
 Aggressive:  'Sir, if I had such a nose
 I'd amputate it!'  Friendly:  'When you sup
 It must annoy you, dipping in your cup;
 You need a drinking-bowl of special shape!'
 Descriptive:  ''Tis a rock! ... a peak! ... a cape!
 --A cape, forsooth!  'Tis a peninsular!'
 Curious:  'How serves that oblong capsular?
 For scissor-sheath?  Or pot to hold your ink?'
 Gracious:  'You love the little birds, I think?
 I see you've managed with a fond research
 To find their tiny claws a roomy perch!'
 Truculent:  'When you smoke your pipe ... suppose
 That the tobacco-smoke spouts from your nose--
 Do not the neighbors, as the fumes rise higher,
 Cry terror-struck:  "The chimney is afire"?'
 Considerate:  'Take care, ... your head bowed low
 By such a weight ... lest head o'er heels you go!'
 Tender:  'Pray get a small umbrella made,
 Lest its bright color in the sun should fade!'
 Pedantic:  'That beast Aristophanes
 Names Hippocamelelephantoles
 Must have possessed just such a solid lump
 Of flesh and bone, beneath his forehead's bump!'
 Cavalier:  'The last fashion, friend, that hook?
 To hang your hat on?  'Tis a useful crook!'
 Emphatic:  'No wind, O majestic nose,
 Can give THEE cold!--save when the mistral blows!'
 Dramatic:  'When it bleeds, what a Red Sea!'
 Admiring:  'Sign for a perfumery!'
 Lyric:  'Is this a conch? ... a Triton you?'
 Simple:  'When is the monument on view?'
 Rustic:  'That thing a nose?  Marry-come-up!
 'Tis a dwarf pumpkin, or a prize turnip!'
 Military:  'Point against cavalry!'
 Practical:  'Put it in a lottery!
 Assuredly 'twould be the biggest prize!'
 Or ... parodying Pyramus' sighs ...
 'Behold the nose that mars the harmony
 Of its master's phiz! blushing its treachery!'
 --Such, my dear sir, is what you might have said,
 Had you of wit or letters the least jot:
 But, O most lamentable man!--of wit
 You never had an atom, and of letters
 You have three letters only!--they spell Ass!
 And--had you had the necessary wit,
 To serve me all the pleasantries I quote
 Before this noble audience ... e'en so,
 You would not have been let to utter one--
 Nay, not the half or quarter of such jest!
 I take them from myself all in good part,
 But not from any other man that breathes!
-- Edmond Rostand
 from the play 'Cyrano de Bergerac'.
 translated from the French by Gladys Thomas and Mary F. Guillemard.

 Andrew Landgraf and Jeff Berndt both wrote in to comment that Thursday's
poem, Adrian Mitchell's  "Ten Ways to Avoid Lending Your Wheelbarrow to
Anybody", was quite obviously based on the above passage from Rostand's
masterpiece, "Cyrano de Bergerac"; our thanks to them for pointing this out.

 Apart from that... well, I have a cold, and that's about all you'll get by
way of commentary from me today <grin>.


[Britannica on Cyrano]

 b. March 6, 1619, Paris
 d. July 28, 1655, Paris

French satirist and dramatist whose works combining political satire and
science-fantasy inspired a number of later writers. He has been the basis of
many romantic but unhistorical legends, of which the best known is Edmond
Rostand's play Cyrano de Bergerac (1897), in which he is portrayed as a
gallant and brilliant but shy and ugly lover, possessed (as in fact he was)
of a remarkably large nose.

As a young man, Cyrano joined the company of guards and was wounded at the
Siege of Arras in 1640. But he gave up his military career in the following
year to study under the philosopher and mathematician Pierre Gassendi. Under
the influence of Gassendi's scientific theories and libertine philosophy,
Cyrano wrote his two best known works, Histoire comique des états et empires
de la lune and Histoire comique des états et empires du soleil (Eng. trans.
A Voyage to the moon: with some account of the Solar World, 1754). These
stories of imaginary journeys to the Moon and Sun, published posthumously in
1656 and 1662, satirize 17th-century religious and astronomical beliefs,
which saw man and the world as the centre of creation.

Cyrano's use of science helped to popularize new theories; but his principal
aim was to ridicule authority, particularly in religion, and to encourage
freethinking materialism. He "predicted" a number of later discoveries such
as the phonograph and the atomic structure of matter; but they were merely
offshoots from an inquiring and poetic mind, not attempts to demonstrate
theories in practical terms.

Cyrano's plays include a tragedy, La Mort d'Agrippine (published 1654, "The
Death of Agrippine"), which was suspected of blasphemy, and a comedy, Le
Pédant joué (published 1654; "The Pedant Imitated"). As long as classicism
was the established taste, Le Pédant joué, a colossal piece of fooling, was
despised; but its liveliness appeals to modern readers as it did to Molière,
who based two scenes of Les Fourberies de Scapin on it. La Mort d'Agrippine
is intellectually impressive because of its daring ideas, and the direct and
impassioned character of the tragic dialogue makes it interesting

As a political writer, Cyrano was the author of a violent pamphlet against
the men of the Fronde, in which he defended Mazarin in the name of political
realism as exemplified in the tradition of Machiavelli. Cyrano's Lettres
show him as a master of baroque prose, marked by bold and original
metaphors. His contemporaries regarded them as absurdly farfetched, but they
came to be esteemed in the 20th century as examples of the baroque style.

        -- EB

[Britannica on Rostand]

Rostand's name is indissolubly linked with that of his most popular and
enduring play, Cyrano de Bergerac. First performed in Paris in 1897, with
the famous actor Constant Coquelin playing the lead, Cyrano made a great
impression in France and all over Europe and the United States. The plot
revolves around the emotional problems of Cyrano, who, despite his many
gifts, feels that no woman can ever love him because he has an enormous
nose. The connection between the Cyrano of the play and the 17th-century
nobleman and writer of the same name is purely nominal. But Rostand's
stirring and colourful historical play, with its dazzling versification,
skillful blend of comedy and pathos, and fast-moving plot, provided welcome
relief from the grim dramas of the naturalists and Symbolists.

        -- EB

[Rostand's original]

Tarun Agarwal was kind enough to send in the original text (in French) of
Cyrano's barrage of eloquence:

 Attendez ! Je vais lui lancer un de ces traits !...
  Il s'avance vers Cyrano qui l'observe, et se campant devant lui d'un air
 Vous.... vous avez un nez... heu... un nez... très grand.

CYRANO, gravement

 Ha !

CYRANO, imperturbable
 C'est tout ?...


 Ah ! non ! c'est un peu court, jeune homme !
 On pouvait dire... Oh ! Dieu !... bien des choses en somme...
 En variant le ton, -par exemple, tenez
 Agressif : "Moi, monsieur, si j'avais un tel nez,
 Il faudrait sur-le-champs que je me l'amputasse !"
 Amical : "Mais il doit tremper dans votre tasse
 Pour boire, faites-vous fabriquer un hanap !"
 Descriptif : "C'est un roc !... c'est un pic !... c'est un cap !
 Que dis-je, c'est un cap ?... C'est une péninsule !"
 Curieux : "De quoi sert cette oblongue capsule ?
 D'écritoire, monsieur, ou de boîtes à ciseaux ?"
 Gracieux : "Aimez-vous à ce point les oiseaux
 Que paternellement vous vous préoccupâtes
 De tendre ce perchoir à leurs petites pattes ?"
 Truculent : "Ca, monsieur, lorsque vous pétunez,
 La vapeur du tabac vous sort-elle du nez
 Sans qu'un voisin ne crie au feu de cheminée ?"
 Prévenant : "Gardez-vous, votre tête entraînée
 Par ce poids, de tomber en avant sur le sol !"
 Tendre : "Faites-lui faire un petit parasol
 De peur que sa couleur au soleil ne se fane !"
 Pédant : "L'animal seul, monsieur, qu'Aristophane
 Appelle Hippocampelephantocamélos
 Dut avoir sous le front tant de chair sur tant d'os !"
 Cavalier : "Quoi, l'ami, ce croc est à la mode ?
 Pour pendre son chapeau, c'est vraiment très commode !"
 Emphatique : "Aucun vent ne peut, nez magistral,
 T'enrhumer tout entier, excepté le mistral !"
 Dramatique : "C'est la Mer Rouge quand il saigne !"
 Admiratif : "Pour un parfumeur, quelle enseigne !"
 Lyrique : "Est-ce une conque, êtes-vous un triton ?"
 Naïf : "Ce monument, quand le visite-t-on ?"
 Respectueux : "Souffrez, monsieur, qu'on vous salue,
 C'est là ce qui s'appelle avoir pignon sur rue !"
 Campagnard : "Hé, ardé ! C'est-y un nez ? Nanain !
 C'est queuqu'navet géant ou ben queuqu'melon nain !"
 Militaire : "Pointez contre cavalerie !"
 Pratique : "Voulez-vous le mettre en loterie ?
 Assurément, monsieur, ce sera le gros lot !"
 Enfin parodiant Pyrame en un sanglot
 "Le voilà donc ce nez qui des traits de son maître
 A détruit l'harmonie ! Il en rougit, le traître !"
 -Voilà ce qu'à peu près, mon cher, vous m'auriez dit
 Si vous aviez un peu de lettres et d'esprit
 Mais d'esprit, ô le plus lamentable des êtres,
 Vous n'en eûtes jamais un atome, et de lettres
 Vous n'avez que les trois qui forment le mot : sot !
 Eussiez-vous eu, d'ailleurs, l'invention qu'il faut
 Pour pouvoir là, devant ces nobles galeries,
 Me servir toutes ces folles plaisanteries,
 Que vous n'en eussiez pas articulé le quart
 De la moitié du commencement d'une, car
 Je me les sers moi-même, avec assez de verve,
 Mais je ne permets pas qu'un autre me les serve.

        -- Edmond Rostand

Tarun also recommends Brian Hooker's translation of Cyrano; he writes "I
have read three translations of Cyrano de Bergerac and the one that sticks
is the Brian Hooker version. Most plays lose meaning in the translation for
the theatrical aspect escapes the translator and he delivers an insipid text
with no stage value; Hooker, though, is a theatre personality who doubles as
a poet.". Unfortunately, I couldn't find Hooker's version anywhere on the
Web, and so had to fall back upon the Project Gutenberg edition. Could
someone whose French is better than mine kindly comment on how good Thomas
and Guillemard's translation is?

[Related Poems]

Edwin Brock, "Five Ways to Kill a Man", Poem #105
Wallace Stevens, "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird", Poem #620
R. S. Thomas, "Thirteen Blackbirds Looking at a Man", Poem #621
Adrian Mitchell, "Ten Ways to Avoid Lending Your Wheelbarrow to Anybody",
Poem #623
all of which you can read at

And finally,

[Martin on plagiarism/parody]

Mitchell didn't 'rip off' Rostand - 'parodied', perhaps, or 'paid tribute
to', or 'borrowed the idea from', but to call it a ripoff is to dismiss the
considerable creativity Mitchell dressed the bare framework of an idea in.
Likewise, although I've never seen Steve Martin's 'Roxanne', it's clearly a
retelling or adaptation of 'Cyrano de Bergerac', both from the name alone
and from the IMDB synopsis. Indeed, Rostand is listed in the writing
credits, and it explicitly says 'based on the play "Cyrano de Bergerac"'. So
the scene was not "brazenly stolen" from the original - au contraire, it
would have been quite surprising did it not feature in the movie.

This confusion between parody and plagiarism is a common one - it's a
perennial problem in Pratchett fandom, for example[1] - and it is almost
inevitably unjustified. The plagiarist steals in silence, and endeavours to
render his theft unrecognisable; the parodist, on the other hand, targets
his writing towards those people who are familiar with the original, and if
he veers towards subtlety it is more to reward the reader who catches the
reference than to deny the tribute to the original.

        -- martin

[1] to the extent that the Man Himself has said that he wishes people would
exercise more care in their choice of words.

17 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Emily M. Cowan said...

You should see "Roxanne." It is hilarious and very clever. And Steve
Martin, of whom I"m a big fan, shows how truly graceful he is, something
he'd hidden pretty well w/his more slapstick comedy until then. I saw it
in a small town w/my mother, also a Steve fan, and we had the added
pleasure of being the only 2 people in the theater to laugh at some of the

Ourhome said...

What Christoper Marlow character is Cyrano comparing himself to? Thanks for
your help. Pat

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