I have always been une grande amoureuse de la langue française. I love the music of this language, its innumerable words and expressions, the ideas which are conveyed with them, and most importantly, the powerful attraction granted to those who know how to use them well.
If I had to choose the best romantic text ever written in French, I would go with Cyrano de Bergerac’s monologue called Le Baiser (The Kiss).
It is just perfect: so delicate, yet so exhilarating…
Let me introduce you to this perle de la litérature française !
Much More Than A Big Nose
Did you know that Cyrano really existed? Yes, indeed! Savinien de Cyrano de Bergerac (6 March 1619 – 28 July 1655) was a French novelist, playwright, epistolarian and duelist. A bold and innovative author, his work was part of the libertine literature of the first half of the 17th century.
Today he is best known as the inspiration for Edmond Rostand’s most noted drama Cyrano de Bergerac (1897), which depicts a romanced version of his life.
The entire play is written in verse, in rhyming couplets of twelve syllables per line, very close to the classical alexandrine form.
Cyrano de Bergerac : The Play
Hercule Savinien Cyrano de Bergerac, a cadet (nobleman serving as a soldier) in the French Army, is a brash, strong-willed man of many talents. In addition to being a remarkable duelist, he is a gifted, joyful poet and a musician. However, he has an extremely large nose, which causes him to doubt himself. This doubt prevents him from expressing his love for his distant cousin, the beautiful and intellectual Roxane, as he believes that his ugliness would prevent him the “dream of being loved by even an ugly woman.”
The Balcony Scene
In Act II, Roxane tells Cyrano that she is in love with Christian de Neuvillette, a handsome new cadet, and asks her cousin to befriend and protect him. Later on, the young man, who is also in love with Roxane, confesses his inability to woo her because of his lack of intellect and wit. Despite all the pain which it causes him, Cyrano offers his services to Christian to help him win the young lady’s heart.
In Act III, Roxane is breathtaken by the love letters written by Cyrano, in the name of Christian. She then asks the young cadet to improvise about love. During their meeting, Christian makes a fool of himself trying to speak seductively to Roxane. She storms into her house, confused and angry. Thinking quickly, Cyrano makes Christian stand in front of Roxane’s balcony and speak to her while Cyrano stands under the balcony whispering to Christian what to say. Eventually, Cyrano shoves Christian aside and, under cover of darkness, pretends to be Christian, wooing Roxane himself. In the process, he wins a kiss for Christian.
Here is how he did it (Gentlemen, time to take your notepad out!):
Un baiser, mais à tout prendre, qu’est-ce ?
Un serment fait d’un peu plus près, une promesse
Plus précise, un aveu qui veut se confirmer,
Un point rose qu’on met sur l’i du verbe aimer;
C’est un secret qui prend la bouche pour oreille,
Un instant d’infini qui fait un bruit d’abeille,
Une communion ayant un goût de fleur,
Une façon d’un peu se respirer le cœur,
Et d’un peu se goûter, au bord des lèvres, l’âme !
After all, what is a kiss?
A vow made at closer range, a more precise
Promise, a confession that contains its own proof
A seal placed on a pact that has already been signed
It’s a secret told to the mouth rather than to the ear
A fleeting moment filled with the hush of eternity
A communion that has the fragrance of the flower,
A way of living by the beat of another heart,
And tasting another soul on one’s lips !
Did you know that the play, which has been translated and performed many times, is responsible for introducing the word panache into the English language?
Panache: flamboyant confidence of style or manner.
Cyrano is in fact famed for his panache, and the play ends with him saying “My panache!” just before his death.
I believe that the best interpretation of Cyrano De Bergerac should go to… the young Gérard Depardieu. Quelle voix, quelle prestance, quel homme!
Listen to his performance of Le Baiser (with Portuguese subtitles only, sorry about this!).
I also invite you to listen to the Balcony scene for a better understanding of the true genius of Edmond Rostand’s work.
For the upcoming Valentine’s Day, make sure to use your panache like Cyrano and ask your Roxane/Christian out on a date!
As a native Québécoise, born to a Franco-Belgian family, now living in Geneva with her husband and two children, Isabelle is no stranger to the expat reality! Trained as a professional opera singer, her passion for arts and languages led her to become an ambassador of the French language & francophone culture, i.e. a French Teacher!
She founded Prêt à Parler in January 2015. Since then she's been hard at work helping native and non-native English-speaking expats make French part of their everyday life! Prêt à Parler's mission is based on what Isabelle does best: helping busy professionals and parents improve their language skills by providing a high quality, eco-friendly, fun, no-nonsense approach to learning French online!