The Poetry of Edmond Rostand

To the Lamp, Now in Its Lampshade


Without it you are naught; your light escapes
But does no good; it is your will, as you
for it are supple, soft, and golden soul.

And thus I coif you in a narrow shade,
It’s just a cardboard cone, without festoon,
But see how from it springs a cone of light!

It forms the circle on my table where
In amber clarity I summon forth
The many dreams that float about the room.

Around the cone’s transparent wall they turn,
The haggard monsters come to make the rounds.
Most stop, and sniff the trap, and then move on.

But some drew near the pretty yellow snare
Whose center is the copper of your foot.
And these were caught the moment they arrived.

On paper at your copper foot they fell,
These dreams in full! And there they wait until
We call them back and make them live again.

Beneath your shade, in silence and unarmed
A mysterious field of holy war
Is joined, and gilded, trembling and restrained.

Come, lamp, let us set forth, and let our fires
Be wisely kept in check! So may you on
This table set the humbly marvelous ring!

The circle clears, we wait for all to sleep,
Then when they do, let Thought contend with Form
And grapple in that ring of gold.

We live to pull from shadow into light
Our dreams. Or two or three, at least, I guess.
And either way, it is for this we die.

That crowns on heads, bestowed by sudden gods
May in the end be nothing grander than
The humble halo from a shaded lamp.

“A la même, en la coiffant de son abat-jour,” Poem IV of Les Musardises, Edition nouvelle, 1887-1893 by Edmond Rostand.

To My Lamp

Dear lamp, my old friend, by your light
My books I’d read and verses write.
You’d watch behind your humble shade
While sleep on my ruddy eyelids played.
Then ashamed I’d startle aright!

I’d speak the grave secrets on my mind,
The hopes I’d never let others find.
Copper-stamped, squat-featured and rotund,
My only true friend while I felt shunned.
Credenzas still sometimes bear your kind.

We lived under the roof, way up high;
My only joys were with you nearby.
While carriages rolled through sleeping streets
I hunched at the table, scratched my sheets,
And by your trembling light, I’d versify.

I built a realm from your golden dust,
When came the dawn, as indeed it must,
Pink like a newborn the sun would rise
In shivering blue-green Paris skies;
Passersby would note you still I trust.

True, your age could sometimes make you leak.
Your clockwork was remarkably weak.
Again and again I’d have to turn
Your key, but your wick refused to burn.
Your stubborn dimness provoked my pique.

You’d force me to guess the reason why;
Your wayward ways I’d often decry.
I thought you did it all for sport
When in a mood of a puzzling sort
Suddenly you’d give a rumbling sigh —

Then brusquely, senselessly, you’d go out.
And in the morning, when I’m back about
My work, I’d heap you with calumny,
For I’d slept. But pardon, now I see —
How perhaps you’re not quite such a lout,

How you were but looking after me.
Your poor master, whom you would not see
Hunching and scratching, so late at night.
That’s why, good lamp, you shut off your light.
Just to give a gift of sleep to me.

“A ma Lampe,” Poem III of Les Musardises, Edition nouvelle, 1887-1893 by Edmond Rostand.

The Bedroom

My neighbor’s old piano greets the sun.
He grinds out dances, really makes it run.

It wakes me up, I’m only half aware;
Like in a drama muttering “What? Where?”

I leave as from a forest, so it seems;
I leave the magic I know in my dreams.

I wake up in a rented flat, alone.
I find it’s somewhere called the Rue Burgogne.

The street is dark and narrow, loud with touts,
The houses echoing mock-happy shouts:

"A week? A day? An hour? You’ve come? You went?"
They cry, “Why yes we have a place for rent!”

Louis Philippe, I know your woodwork well
It crushes hope, and in its gloom I dwell.

The balding velvet armchairs hold the tracks
Of successions of humble renters’ backs,

And in the ceiling are enormous cracks.
The paper peels. The curtains’ color lacks.

I think: “Today is Thursday, that’s the day
They hold the flower markets in Marseille.”

Amid the strolling crowds, that’s where I’d be
Enveloped in a warm vermillion sea.

But no, Daniel Eysette drew me away,
And now I’m him without Alphonse Daudet.[1]

I fear I dream my useless dream thirdhand
Poets are plenty, weak is the demand.

I felt so sure my place was in the sun
Until I learned that Paris hasn’t one.

It’s winter, and I have no sun above.
I never do; I haven’t any love.

My life is like this room, it’s cold and hard;
Like it, I look upon a dreary yard.

My friend is happy when he calls and then
Is miserable as we part again.

So day by day, he loses faith in me,
And what he’d hoped for in my artistry.

In Paris I’m alone but for a mouse
Who in my hearth has made a gnawing-house

My table, too, it always holds a rose
It’s not my home, if not for one of those.

And while the furtive creature gnaws away
And cinnamon’s mystery scent holds sway

I know two things at least are keeping near:
A soul’s perfume, a heart that I can hear.

Will laurels ever crown my head? Too late!
Alone by lamp, a job well done my fate.

Yet on the table is a giant bloom;
A tiny eye looks out across the room.

"Be patient," says the counselor in gray
“Take pride,” I hear the one in scarlet say.

Although I need them both I often find
The second counsel difficult to mind.

But nonetheless the sound that gnaws inspires
With it, in hope, the dreaming scent conspires;

I’m less alone by shadow of the night,
And I get up and laugh in its despite.

To laugh, a skill this fellow always knows —
While hearth and table keep my mouse and rose.

"La Chambre," Poem II of Les Musardises, Edition nouvelle, 1887-1893 by Edmond Rostand.

[1] Alphonse Daudet (1840-1897), author of the story “Le petit chose,” whose main character, Daniel Eyssette, was an autobiographical suffering author.  The story’s title has been translated as “Little Good-for-Nothing.”

Links and Resources

Edmond Rostand’s Les Musardises at Wikisource.  The text seems to need a lot of correcting from the scan, but still a useful resource.  I will likely work on this as I translate.

Edmond Rostand’s Facebook page (English).

Cyrano de Bergerac.fr (French).  Many translations of Cyrano, news, images, miscellany, gift shop.

Dedication

I love you, and I want it known
O disinherited, o mocked,
You whom the fickle public scorns,
You whom they like to call the failed.

For in this hour I throw myself
Into the fight – to strike and break
My lance, perhaps, and others too,
And be struck wickedly in turn.

For now desire within me burns,
My rivals I must face head-on,
Though I do not know who I am,
And though still less know I the score,

And though perhaps I am unfit
To mingle with the likes of you,
Or tread the battlefield today
Where I’ll pour out my twenty years.

I think of you, the dearly failed
With whom I may soon share a meal
In misery tonight. If so
I hope you’ll save a place for me.

From far away I ponder you;
To test myself, to know my heart,
I weigh my courage on the scale
Of sadnesses that you have borne.

If moved I was by japes they heaped
I feel I could move back, deny,
And make my way back home.
I’m sure I’d have an easy walk.

But no, I want the fight; I find
Your lot does not disgust, does not
Repel. I shrink not from your fate,
For it’s the one that I prefer.

The Philistines, I hear, have joys
That do outrun your own. But I
Will take the meager rations of
Your dreams, and not their splendid feasts.

A fall may come; it did for you,
But if the saddle throws me out
Well then, I land with you and take
A place among beloved friends.

To you the mocked, the booed, the heaped
With scorn, the countless outcast mob,
The would have beens, the never weres,
The throngs whom no one understands.

The ghost called Perfect haunted you,
The specter of the master-stroke
Until for want of pleasing him,
At last you pleased no one at all.

To you who carried in your head
Ideals too lovely to be wrought;
To you the poets of the verse
That never will be written down.

To you who filled your idle days
With projects proud and never done;
To you who chased ambitions grand,
In matters that were grander still.

To you whose sweeping thoughts could not
Abide within a narrow mold
Or fit a frame or take a shape
Without a break or overflow.

To you the painters in despair
Who found before a play of light
That colors always fled your grasp,
Who hurled your brushes in dismay.

To you composers who grew pale
At harmonies within your soul
And who for want of notes on page
Filled up your eyes with tears instead.

To you, whose art could not bring out
The subtleties you felt within
And chose therefore not to create,
O delicate, exquisite wastes!

To you, the egotists of sloth
Who keep your works within yourselves
To you, the true, the great, the grand
To you, the ruined; you, the fools.

To you who do not hear the scorn
Who triumph in the shabby nights
Who wave your madness on the streets
And hope to catch indifferent eyes.

You acrobatic characters;
You ugly, scruffy, grimacing,
You grotesque Don Quixotes, yes,
Are those who win my heart still more,

For Dulcinea is your muse
You errant knights of artistry
Whom chance alone perhaps denied
A moment in the sun of fame.

I am your brother and your friend,
A dreamer and a scatterbrain,
And I may know your misery
Before today is done, and so —

I dedicate these lines to you
The first that I have ever made,
O shock troops of Bohemia,
My friends, the lost; my friends, the failed!

"Dedication," From Les Musardises, Edition nouvelle, 1887-1893
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE INANIMATE OBJECT?

My panache, of course.