The Song of Roland
Translation by John O'Hagan
Also online is an alternative translation of The Song of Roland by Scott
Moncrieff. [At OMACL]
In the year 778 A.D., Charles the Great, King of the Franks, returned from a
military expedition into Spain, whither he had been led by opportunities offered through
dissensions among the Saracens who then dominated that country. On the 15th of August,
while his army was marching through the passes of the Pyrenees, his rear - guard was
attacked and annihilated by the Basque inhabitants of the mountains, in the valley of
Roncesvaux. About this disaster many popular songs, it is supposed, soon sprang up; and
the chief hero whom they celebrated was Hrodland, Count of the Marches of Brittany.
There are indications that the earliest of these songs arose among the Breton
followers of Hrodland or Roland; but they spread to Maine, to Anjou, to Normandy, until
the theme became national. By the latter part of the eleventh century, when the form of
the "Song of Roland" which we possess was probably composed, the historical germ
of the story had almost disappeared under the mass of legendary accretion. Charlemagne,
who was a man of thirty - six at the time of the actual Roncesvaux incident, has become in
the poem an old man with a flowing white beard, credited with endless conquests; the
Basques have disappeared, and the Saracens have taken their place; the defeat is accounted
for by the invention of the treachery of Ganelon; the expedition of 777-778 has become a
campaign of seven years; Roland is made the nephew of Charlemagne, leader of the twelve
peers, and is provided with a faithful friend Oliver, and betrothed, Alda.
The poem is the first of the great French heroic poems known as "chansons de
geste." It is written in stanzas of various length, bound together by the vowel -
rhyme known as assonance. It is not possible to reproduce effectively this device in
English, and the author of the present translation has adopted what is perhaps the nearest
equivalent - the romantic measure of Coleridge and Scott.
Simple almost of bareness in style, without subtlety or high imagination, the Song
of Roland is yet not without grandeur; and its patriotic ardor gives it a place as the
earliest of the truly national poems of the modern world.
The Treason Of Ganelon
Saragossa. The Council of King Marsil
The king our Emperor Carlemaine,
Hath been for seven full years in Spain.
From highland to sea hath he won the land;
City was none might his arm withstand;
Keep and castle alike went down
Save Saragossa, the mountain town.
The King Marsilius holds the place,
Who loveth not God, nor seeks His grace:
He prays to Apollin, and serves Mahound;
But he saved him not from the fate he found.
In Saragossa King Marsil made
His council - seat in the orchard shade,
On a stair of marble of azure hue.
There his courtiers round him drew;
While there stood, the king before,
Twenty thousand men and more.
Thus to his dukes and his counts he said,
"Hear ye, my lords, we are sore bested.
The Emperor Karl of gentle France
Hither hath come for our dire mischance.
Nor host to meet him in battle line,
Nor power to shatter his power, is mine.
Speak, my sages; your counsel lend:
My doom of shame and death forefend."
But of all the heathens none spake word
Save Blancandrin, Val Fonde's lord.
Blancandrin was a heathen wise,
Knightly and valiant of enterprise,
Sage in counsel his lord to aid;
And he said to the king, "Be not dismayed:
Proffer to Karl, the haughty and high,
Lowly friendship and fealty;
Ample largess lay at his feet,
Bear and lion and greyhound fleet.
Seven hundred camels his tribute be,
A thousand hawks that have moulted free.
Let full four hundred mules be told,
Laden with silver enow and gold
For fifty waggons to bear away;
So shall his soldiers receive their pay.
Say, too long hath he warred in Spain,
Let him turn to France - to his Aix - again.
At Saint Michael's feast you will thither speed,
Bend your heart to the Christian creed,
And his liegeman be in duty and deed.
Hostages he may demand
Ten or twenty at your hand.
We will send him the sons whom our wives have nursed; Were death to follow, mine own the
Better by far that they there should die
Than be driven all from our land to fly,
Flung to dishonor and beggary.
"Yea," said Blancandrin, "by this right hand,
And my floating beard by the free wind fanned,
Ye shall see the host of the Franks disband
And hie them back into France their land;
Each to his home as beseemeth well, And
Karl unto Aix - to his own Chapelle.
He will hold high feast on Saint Michael's day
And the time of your tryst shall pass away.
Tale nor tidings of us shall be;
Fiery and sudden, I know, is he:
He will smite off the heads of our hostages all:
Better, I say, that their heads should fall
Than we the fair land of Spain forego,
And our lives be laden with shame and woe."
"Yea," said the heathens, "it may be so."
King Marsil's council is over that day,
And he called to him Clarin of Balaguet,
Estramarin, and Eudropin his peer,
Bade Garlon and Priamon both draw near,
Machiner and his uncle Maheu - with these
Joimer and Malbien from overseas,
Blancandrin for spokesman, - of all his men
He hath summoned there the most felon ten.
"Go ye to Carlemaine," spake their liege,
"At Cordres city he sits in siege,
While olive branches in hand ye press,
Token of peace and of lowliness.
Win him to make fair treaty with me,
Silver and gold shall your guerdon be,
Land and lordship in ample fee."
"Nay," said the heathens, "enough have we."
So did King Marsil his council end.
"Lords," he said, "on my errand wend;
While olive branches in hand ye bring,
Say from me unto Karl the king,
For sake of his God let him pity show;
And ere ever a month shall come and go,
With a thousand faithful of my race,
I will follow swiftly upon his trace,
Freely receive his Christian law,
And his liegemen be in love and awe.
Hostages asks he? it shall be done."
Blancandrin answered, "Your peace is won."
Then King Marsil bade be dight
Ten fair mules of snowy white,
Erst from the King of Sicily brought
Their trappings with silver and gold inwrought
Gold the bridle, and silver the selle.
On these are the messengers mounted well;
And they ride with olive boughs in hand,
To seek the Lord of the Frankish land.
Well let him watch; he shall be trepanned.
At Cordres. Carlemaine's Council
King Karl is jocund and gay of mood,
He hath Cordres city at last subdued;
Its shattered walls and turrets fell
By Catapult and mangonel;
Not a heathen did there remain
But confessed him Christian or else was slain.
The Emperor sits in an orchard wide,
Roland and Olivier by his side:
Samson the duke, and Anseis proud;
Geoffrey of Anjou, whose arm was vowed
The royal gonfalon to rear;
Gerein, and his fellow in arms, Gerier;
With them many a gallant lance,
Full fifteen thousand of gentle France.
The cavaliers sit upon carpets white,
Playing at tables for their delight:
The older and sager sit at the chess,
The bachelors fence with a light address.
Seated underneath a pine,
Close beside an eglantine,
Upon a throne of beaten gold,
The lord of ample France behold;
White his hair and beard were seen,
Fair of body, and proud of mien,
Who sought him needed not ask, I ween
The ten alight before his feet,
And him in all observance greet.
Blancandrin first his errand gave,
And he said to the king, "May God you save,
The God of glory, to whom you bend!
Marsil, our king, doth his greeting send.
Much hath he mused on the law of grace.
Much of his wealth at your feet will place
Bears and lions, and dogs of chase,
Seven hundred camels that bend the knee,
A thousand hawks that have moulted free,
Four hundred mules, with silver and gold
Which fifty wains might scantly hold,
So shall you have of the red bezants
To pay the soldiers of gentle France.
Overlong have you dwelt in Spain,
To Aix, your city, return again.
The lord I serve will thither come,
Accept the law of Christendom,
With clasped hands your liegeman be,
And hold his realm of you in fee."
The Emperor raised his hands on high,
Bent and bethought him silently.
The Emperor bent his head full low;
Never hasty of speech I trow;
Leisurely came his words, and slow,
Lofty his look as he raised his head:
"Thou hast spoken well," at length he said.
"King Marsil was ever my deadly foe,
And of all these words, so fair in show,
How may I the fulfilment know?"
Hostages will you?" the heathen cried,
"Ten or twenty, or more beside.
I will send my son, were his death at hand,
With the best and noblest of all our land;
And when you sit in your palace halls,
And the feast of St. Michael of Peril falls,
Unto the waters will come our king,
Which God commanded for you to spring;
There in the laver of Christ be laved.'
"Yea!" said Karl, "he may yet be saved."
Fair and bright did the evening full:
The ten white mules were stabled in stall;
On the sward was a fair pavilion dressed,
To give to the Saracens cheer of the best;
Servitors twelve at their bidding bide,
And they rest all night until morning tide.
The Emperor rose with the day - dawn clear,
Failed not Matins and Mass to hear,
Then betook him beneath a pine,
Summoned his barons by word and sign:
As his Franks advise will his choice incline.
Under a pine is the Emperor gone,
And his barons to council come forth anon:
Archbishop Turpin, Duke Ogier bold
With his nephew Henry was Richard the old,
Gascony's gallant Count Acelin,
Tybalt of Rheims, and Milo his kin,
Gerein and his brother in arms, Gerier,
Count Roland and his faithful fere,
The gentle and valiant Olivier:
More than a thousand Franks of France
And Ganelon came, of woful chance;
By him was the deed of treason done.
So was the fatal consult begun.
"Lords my barons," the Emperor said,
"King Marsil to me hath his envoys sped.
He proffers treasure surpassing bounds,
Bears and lions, and leashed hounds;
Seven hundred camels that bend the knee;
A thousand hawks that have moulted free;
Four hundred mules with Arab gold,
Which fifty wains might scantly hold.
But he saith to France must I wend my way:
He will follow to Aix with brief delay,
Bend his heart unto Christ's belief,
And hold his marches of me in fief;
Yet I know not what in his heart may lie."
"Beware! beware!" was the Franks' outcry.
Scarce his speech did the Emperor close,
When in high displeasure Count Roland rose,
Fronted his uncle upon the spot,
And said, "This Marsil, believe him not:
Seven full years have we warred in Spain;
Commibles and Noples for you have I ta'en,
Tudela and Sebilie, cities twain;
Valtierra I won, and the land of Pine,
And Balaguet fell to this arm of mine.
King Marsil hath ever a traitor been:
He sent of his heathens, at first fifteen.
Bearing each one on olive bough,
Speaking the self - same words as now.
Into council with your Franks you went,
Lightly they flattered your heart's intent;
Two of your barons to him you sent,
They were Basan and Basil, the brother knights:
He smote off their heads on Haltoia's heights.
War, I say! - end as you well began,
Unto Saragossa lead on your van;
Were the siege to last your lifetime through,
Avenge the nobles this felon slew."
The Emperor bent him and mused within,
Twisted his beard upon lip and chin,
Answered his nephew nor good nor ill;
And the Franks, save Ganelon, all were still:
Hastily to his feet he sprang,
Haughtily his words outrang:
"By me or others be not misled,
Look to your own good ends," he said.
"Since now King Marsil his faith assures,
That, with hands together clasped in yours,
He will henceforth your vassal be,
Receive the Christian law as we,
And hold his realm of you in fee,
Whoso would treaty like this deny,
Recks not, sire, by what death we die:
Good never came from counsel of pride,
List to the wise, and let madmen bide."
Then his form Duke Naimes upreared, White of hair and hoary of beard. Better vassal in
court was none. "You have hearkened," he said, "unto Ganelon. Well hath
Count Ganelon made reply; Wise are his words, if you bide thereby. King Marsil is beaten
and broken in war; You have captured his castles anear and far, With your engines
shattered his walls amain, His cities burned, his soldiers slain: Respite and ruth if he
now implore, Sin it were to molest him more. Let his hostages vouch for the faith he
plights, And send him one of your Christian knights. 'Twere time this war to an ending
came." "Well saith the duke!" the Franks exclaim.
"Lords my barons, who then were best In Saragossa to do our hest?"
"I," said Naimes, "of your royal grace, Yield me in token your glove and
mace." "Nay - my sagest of men art thou: By my beard upon lip and chin I vow
Thou shalt never depart so far from me: Sit thee down till I summon thee.
"Lords my barons, whom send we, then, To Saragossa, the Saracen den?"
"I," said Roland, "will blithely go." "Nay," said Olivier;
"nay, not so. All too fiery of mood thou art; Thou wouldst play, I fear me, a
perilous part. I go myself, if the king but will." "I command," said Karl,
"that ye both be still. Neither shall be on this errand bound, Nor one of the twelve
- my peers around; So by my blanching beard I swear." The Franks are abashed and
Turpin of Rheims from amid the ranks Said: "Lolk, my liege, on your faithful
Franks: Seven full years have they held this land, With pain and peril on every hand. To
me be the mace and the glove consigned; I will go this Saracen lord to find, And freely
forth will I speak my mind." The Emperor answered in angry plight, "Sit thee
down on that carpet white; Speak not till I thy speech invite.
"My cavaliers," he began anew, "Choose of my marches a baron true,
Before King Marsil my hest to do." "Be it, then," said Roland, "my
stepsire Gan, In vain ye seek for a meeter man." The Franks exclaim, "He is
worth the trust, So it please the king it is right and just." Count Ganelon then was
with anguish wrung, His mantle of fur from his neck he flung, Stood all stark in his
silken vest, And his grey eyes gleamed with a fierce unrest. Fair of body and large of
limb, All in wonderment gazed on him. "Thou madman," thus he to Roland cried,
"What may this rage against me betide? I am thy stepsire, as all men know, And thou
doom'st me on hest like this to go; But so God my safe return bestow, I promise to work
thee scathe and strife Long as thou breathest the breath of life." "Pride and
folly!" said Roland, then. "Am I known to wreck of the threats of men? But this
is work for the sagest head. So it please the king, I will go instead."
"In my stead? - never, of mine accord. Thou art not my vassal nor I thy lord.
Since Karl commands me his hest to fill, Unto Saragossa ride forth I will; Yet I fear me
to wreak some deed of ill, Thereby to slake this passion's might." Roland listened,
and laughed outright.
At Roland's laughter Count Ganelon's pain Was as though his bosom were cleft in twain.
He turned to his stepson as one distraught: "I do not love thee," he said,
"in aught; Thou hast false judgment against me wrought. O righteous Emperor, here I
stand To execute your high command.
"Unto Saragossa I needs must go; Who goeth may never return, I know; Yet withal,
your sister is spouse of mine, And our son - no fairer of mortal line Baldwin bids to be
goodly knight; I leave him my honors and fiefs of right. Guard him - no more shall he
greet my sight." Saith Karl, "Thou art over tender of heart. Since I command it,
thou shalt depart.
"Fair Sir Gan," the Emperor spake, "This my message to Marsil take: He
shall make confession of Christ's belief, And I yield him, full half of Spain in fief; In
the other half shall Count Roland reign. If he choose not the terms I now ordain, I will
march unto Saragossa's gate, Besiege and capture the city straight, Take and bind him both
hands and feet, Lead him to Aix, to my royal seat, There to be tried and judged and slain,
Dying a death of disgrace and pain. I have sealed the scroll of my command. Deliver it
into the heathen's hand.
"Gan," said the Emperor, "draw thou near: Take my glove and my baton
here; On thee did the choice of thy fellows fall." "Sire, 'twas Roland who
wrought it all. I shall not love him while life may last, Nor Olivier his comrade fast,
Nor the peers who cherish and prize him so, Gage of defiance to all I throw." Saith
Karl, "Thine anger hath too much sway. Since I ordain it, thou must obey."
"I go, but warranty none have I That I may not like Basil and Basan die."
The Emperor reached him his right - hand glove; Gan for his office had scanty love; As
he bent him forward, it fell to ground: "God, what is this?" said the Franks
around; "Evil will come of this quest we fear." "My lords," said
Ganelon, "ye shall hear."
"Sire," he said, "let me wend my way; Since go I must, what boots
delay?" Said the king, "In Jesus' name and mine!" And his right hand sained
him with holy sign. Then he to Ganelon's grasp did yield His royal mace and missive
Home to his hostel is Ganelon gone, His choicest of harness and arms to don; On his
charger Taschebrun to mount and ride, With his good sword Murgleis girt at side. On his
feet are fastened the spurs of gold, And his uncle Guinemer doth his stirrup hold. Then
might ye look upon cavaliers A - many round him who spake in tears. "Sir," they
said, "what a woful day! Long were you ranked in the king's array, A noble vassal as
none gainsay. For him who doomed you to journey hence Carlemagne's self shall be scant
defence; Foul was the thought in Count Roland's mind, When you and he are so high affined.
Sir," they said, "let us with you wend." "Nay," said Ganelon,
"God forefend. Liefer alone to my death I go, Than such brave bachelors perish so.
Sirs, ye return into France the fair; Greeting from me to my lady bear, To my friend and
peer Sir Pinabel, And to Baldwin, my son, whom ye all know well, Cherish him, own him your
lord of right." He hath passed on his journey and left their sight.
The Embassy And Crime Of Ganelon
Ganelon rides under olives high, And comes the Saracen envoys nigh.
Blancandrin lingers until they meet, And in cunning converse each other greet. The
Saracen thus began their parle. "What a man, what a wondrous man is Karl! Apulia -
Calabria - all subdued, Unto England crossed he the salt sea rude, Won for Saint Peter his
tribute fee; But what in our marches maketh he?" Ganelon said, "He is great of
heart, Never man shall fill so mighty a part."
Said Blancandrin, "Your Franks are high of fame, But your dukes and counts are
sore to blame. Such counsel to their lord they give, Nor he nor others in peace may
live." Ganelon answered, "I know of none, Save Roland, who thus to his shame
hath done. Last morn the Emperor sat in the shade, His nephew came in his mail arrayed, He
had plundered Carcassonne just before, And a vermeil apple in hand he bore: 'Sire,' he
said, 'to your feet I bring The crown of every earthly king.' Disaster is sure such pride
to blast; He setteth his life on a daily cast. Were he slain, we all should have peace at
"Ruthless is Roland," Blancandrin spake, "Who every race would recreant
make, And on all possessions of men would seize; But in whom doth he trust for feats like
these?" "The Franks! the Franks!" Count Ganelon cried; "They love him,
and never desert his side; For he lavisheth gifts that seldom fail, Gold and silver in
countless tale, Mules and chargers, and silks and mail, The king himself may have spoil at
call. From hence to the East he will conquer all."
Thus Blancandrin and Ganelon rode, Till each on other his faith bestowed That Roland
should be by practice slain, And so they journeyed by path and plain, Till in Saragossa
they bridle drew, There alighted beneath a yew. In a pine - tree's shadow a throne was
set; Alexandrian silk was the coverlet: There the monarch of Spain they found, With twenty
thousand Saracens round, Yet from them came nor breath nor sound; All for the tidings they
strained to hear, As they saw Blancandrin and Ganelon near.
Blancandrin stepped before Marsil's throne, Ganelon's hand was in his own.
"Mahound you save," to the king he said, "And Apollin, whose holy law we
dread! Fairly your errand to Karl was done; But other answer made he none, Save that his
hands to Heaven he raised, Save that a space his God he praised; He sends a baron of his
court, Knight of France, and of high report, Of him your tidings of peace receive."
"Let him speak," said Marsil, "we yield him leave."
Gan had bethought him, and mused with art; Well was he skilled to play his part; And he
said to Marsil, "May God you save, The God of glory, whose grace we crave! Thus saith
the noble Carlemaine: You shall make in Christ confession plain. And he gives you in fief
full half of Spain; The other half shall be Roland's share (Right haughty partner, he
yields you there); And should you slight the terms I bear, He will come and gird Saragossa
round, You shall be taken by force and bound, Led unto Aix, to his royal seat, There to
perish by judgment meet, Dying a villainous death of shame." Over King Marsil a
horror came; He grasped his javelin, plumed with gold, In act to smite, were he not
King Marsil's cheek the hue hath left, And his right hand grasped his weapon's heft.
When Ganelon saw it, his sword he drew Finger lengths from the scabbard two.
"Sword," he said, "thou art clear and bright; I have borne thee long in my
fellows' sight, Mine emperor never shall say of me, That I perished afar, in a strange
country, Ere thou in the blood of their best wert dyed." "Dispart the
mellay," the heathens cried.
The noblest Saracens thronged amain, Seated the king on his throne again, And the
Algalif said, "'Twas a sorry prank, Raising your weapon to slay the Frank. It was
yours to hearken in silence there." "Sir," said Gan, "I may meetly
bear, But for all the wealth of your land arrayed, For all the gold that God hath made,
Would I not live and leave unsaid, What Karl, the mightiest king below, Sends, through me,
to his mortal foe," His mantle of fur, that was round him twined, With silk of
Alexandria lined, Down at Blancandrin's feet he cast, But still he held by his good sword
fast, Grasping the hilt by its golden ball. "A noble knight," say the heathens
Ganelon came to the king once more. "Your anger," he said, "misserves
you sore. As the princely Carlemaine saith, I say, You shall the Christian law obey. And
half of Spain you shall hold in fee, The other half shall Count Roland's be, (And a
haughty partner 'tis yours to see). Reject the treaty I here propose, Round Saragossa his
lines will close; Your shall be bound in fetters strong, Led to his city of Aix along. Nor
steed nor palfrey shall you bestride, Nor mule nor jennet be yours to ride; On a sorry
sumpter you shall be cast, And your head by doom stricken off at last. So is the Emperor's
mandate traced," And the scroll in the heathen's hand he placed.
Discolored with ire was King Marsil's hue; The seal he brake and to earth he threw,
Read of the scroll the tenor clear. "So Karl the Emperor writes me here. Bids me
remember his wrath and pain For sake of Basan and Basil slain, Whose necks I smote on
Haltoia's hill; Yet, if my life I would ransom still, Mine uncle the Algalif must I send,
Or love between us were else at end." Then outspakes Jurfalez, Marsil's son:
"This is but madness of Ganelon. For crime so deadly his life shall pay; Justice be
mine on his head this day." Ganelon heard him, and waved his blade, While his back
against a pine he stayed.
Into his orchard King Marsil stepped. His nobles round him their station kept: There
was Jurfalez, his son and heir, Blancandrin of the hoary hair, The Algalif, truest of all
his kin. Said Blancandrin, "Summon the Christian in; His troth he pledged me upon our
side." "Go," said Marsil, "be thou his guide." Blancandrin led
him, hand - in - hand, Before King Marsil's face to stand. Then was the villainous treason
"Fair Sir Ganelon," spake the king, "I did a rash and despighteous
thing, Raising against thee mine arm to smite. Richly will I the wrong requite. See these
sables whose worth were told At full five hundred pounds of gold: Thine shall they be ere
the coming day." "I may not," said Gan, "your grace gainsay. God in
His pleasure will you repay."
"Trust me I love thee, Sir Gan, and fain Would I hear thee discourse of
Carlemaine. He is old, methinks, exceedingly old; And full two hundred years hath told;
With toil his body spent and worn, So many blows on his buckler borne, So many a haughty
king laid low, When will he weary of warring so?" "Such is not Carlemaine,"
Gan replied; "Man never knew him, nor stood beside, But will say how noble a lord is
he, Princely and valiant in high degree. Never could words of mine express His honor, his
bounty, his gentleness, 'Twas God who graced him with gifts so high. Ere I leave his
vassalage I will die."
The heathen said, "I marvel sore Of Carlemaine, so old and hoar, Who counts I ween
two hundred years, Hath borne such strokes of blades and spears, So many lands hath
overrun, So many mighty kings undone, When will he tire of war and strife?" "Not
while his nephew breathes in life. Beneath the cope of heaven this day Such vassal leads
not king's array. Gallant and sage is Olivier, And all the twelve, to Karl so dear, With
twenty thousand Franks in van, He feareth not the face of man."
"Strange," said Marsil, "seems to me, Karl, so white with eld is he,
Twice a hundred years, men say, Since his birth have passed away. All his wars in many
lands, All the strokes of trenchant brands, All the kings despoiled and slain, When will
he from war refrain?" "Not till Roland breathes no more, For from hence to
eastern shore, Where is chief with him may vie? Olivier his comrades by, And the peers, of
Karl the pride, Twenty thousand Franks beside, Vanguard of his host, and flower: Karl may
mock at mortal power."
"I tell thee, Sir Gan, that a power is mine; Fairer did never in armor shine, Four
hundred thousand cavaliers, With the Franks of Karl to measure spears." "Fling
such folly," said Gan, "away; Sorely your heathen would rue the day. Proffer the
Emperor ample prize, A sight to dazzle the Frankish eyes; Send him hostages full of score,
So returns he to France once more. But his rear will tarry behind the host; There, I trow,
will be Roland's post There will Sir Olivier remain. Hearken to me, and the counts lie
slain; The pride of Karl shall be crushed that day, And his wars be ended with you for
"Speak, then, and tell me, Sir Ganelon, How may Roland to death be done?"
"Through Cizra's pass will the Emperor wind, But his rear will linger in march
behind; Roland and Olivier there shall be, With twenty thousand in company. Muster your
battle against them then, A hundred thousand heathen men. Till worn and spent be the
Frankish bands, Though your bravest perish beneath their hands. For another battle your
powers be massed, Roland will sink, overcome at last. There were a feat of arms indeed,
And your life from peril thenceforth be freed.
"For whoso Roland to death shall bring, From Karl his good right aim will wring,
The marvellous host will melt away, No more shall he muster a like array, And the mighty
land will in peace repose." King Marsil heard him to the close; Then kissed him on
the neck, and bade His royal treasures be displayed.
What said they more? Why tell the rest? Said Marsil, "Fastest bound is best; Come,
swear me here to Roland's fall." "Your will," said Gan, "be mine in
all." He swore on the relics in the hilt Of his sword Murgleis, and crowned his
A stool was there of ivory wrought. King Marsil bade a book be brought, Wherein was all
the law contained Mahound and Termagaunt ordained. The Saracen hath sworn thereby, If
Roland in the rear - guard lie, With all his men - at - arms to go, And combat till the
count lay low. Sir Gan repeated, "Be it so."
King Marsil's foster - father came, A heathen, Valdabrun by name. He spake to Gan with
laughter clear. "My sword, that never found its peer, A thousand pieces would not buy
The riches in the hilt that lie, To you I give in guerdon free; Your aid in Roland's fall
to see, Let but the rear - guard be his place." "I trust," said Gan,
"to do you grace." Then each kissed other on the face.
Next broke with jocund laughter in, Another heathen, Climorin. To Gan he said,
"Accept my helm, The best and trustiest in the realm, Conditioned that your aid we
claim To bring the marchman unto shame." "Be it," said Ganelon, "as
you list." And then on cheek and mouth they kissed.
Now Bramimonde, King Marsil's queen, To Ganelon came with gentle mien. "I love
thee well, Sir Count," she spake, "For my lord the king and his nobles' sake.
See these clasps for a lady's wrist, Of gold, and jacinth, and amethyst, That all the
jewels of Rome outshine; Never your Emperor owned so fine; These by the queen to your
spouse are sent." The gems within his boot he pent.
Then did the king on his treasurer call, "My gifts for Karl, are they ready
all?" "Yea, sire, seven hundred camels' load Of gold and silver well bestowed,
And twenty hostages thereby, The noblest underneath the sky."
On Ganelon's shoulder King Marsil leant. "Thou art sage," he said, "and
of gallant bent; But by all thy holiest law deems dear, Let not thy thought from our
purpose veer. Ten mules' burthen I give to thee Of gold, the finest of Araby; Nor ever
year henceforth shall pass But it brings thee riches in equal mass Take the keys of my
city gates, Take the treasure that Karl awaits Render them all; but oh, decide That Roland
in the rear - guard bide; So may I find him by pass or height, As I swear to meet him in
mortal fight." Cried Gan, "Meseemeth too long we stay," Sprang on his
charger and rode away.
The Emperor homeward hath turned his face, To Gailne city he marched apace, (By Roland
erst in ruins strown Deserted thence it lay and lone, Until a hundred years had flown).
Here waits he, word of Gan to gain With tribute of the land of Spain; And here, at
earliest break of day, Came Gan where the encampment lay.
The Emperor rose with the day dawn clear, Failed not Matins and Mass to hear, Sate at
his tent on the fair green sward, Roland and Olivier nigh their lord, Duke Naimes and all
his peers of fame. Gan the felon, the perjured, came False was the treacherous tale he
gave, And these his words, "May God you save! I bear you Saragossa's keys, Vast the
treasure I bring with these, And twenty hostages; guard them well, The noble Marsil bids
me tell Not on him shall your anger fall, If I fetch not the Algalif here withal; For mine
eyes beheld, beneath their ken, Three hundred thousand armed men, With sword and casque
and coat of mail, Put forth with him on the sea to sail, All for hate of the Christian
creed, Which they would neither hold nor heed. They had not floated a league but four,
When a tempest down on their galleys bore. Drowned they lie to be seen no more. If the
Algalif were but living wight, He had stood this morn before your sight. Sire, for the
Saracen king I say, Ere ever a month shall pass away, On into France he will follow free,
Bend to our Christian law the knee, Homage swear for his Spanish land, And hold the realm
at your command." "Now praise to God," the Emperor said, "And thanks,
my Ganelon, well you sped," A thousand clarions then resound, The sumpter - mules are
girt on ground, For France, for France the Franks are bound.
Karl the Great hath wasted Spain, Her cities sacked, her castles ta'en; But now
"My wars are done," he cried, "And home to gentle France we ride."
Count Roland plants his standard high Upon a peak against the sky; The Franks around
encamping lie. Alas! the heathen host the while, Through valley deep and dark defile, Are
riding on the Christians' track, All armed in steel from breast to back; Their lances
poised, their helmets laced, Their falchions glittering from the waist, Their bucklers
from the shoulder swung, And so they ride the steeps among, Till, in a forest on the
height, They rest to wait the morning light, Four hundred thousand crouching there. O God!
the Franks are unaware.
The day declined, night darkling crept, And Karl, the mighty Emperor, slept. He dreamt
a dream: he seemed to stand In Cizra's pass, with lance in hand. Count Ganelon came
athwart, and lo, He wrenched the aspen spear him fro, Brandished and shook it aloft with
might, Till it brake in pieces before his sight; High towards heaven the splinters flew;
Karl awoke not, he dreamed anew.
In his second dream he seemed to dwell In his palace of Aix, at his own Chapelle. A
bear seized grimly his right arm on, And bit the flesh to the very bone. Anon a leopard
from Arden wood, Fiercely flew at him where he stood. When lo! from his hall, with leap
and bound, Sprang to the rescue a gallant hound. First from the bear the ear he tore, Then
on the leopard his fangs he bore. The Franks exclaim, "'Tis a stirring fray, But who
the victor none may say." Karl awoke not - he slept away.
The night wore by, the day dawn glowed, Proudly the Emperor rose and rode, Keenly and
oft his host he scanned. "Lords, my barons, survey this land, See the passes so
straight and steep: To whom shall I trust the rear to keep?" "To my stepson
Roland:" Count Gan replied. "Knight like him have you none beside." The
Emperor heard him with moody brow. "A living demon," he said, "art thou;
Some mortal rage hath thy soul possessed. To head my vanguard, who then were best?"
"Ogier," he answered, "the gallant Dane, Braver baron will none
Roland, when thus the choice he saw, Spake, full knightly, by knightly law: "Sir
Stepsire, well may I hold thee dear, That thou hast named me to guard the rear; Karl shall
lose not, if I take heed, Charger, or palfrey, or mule or steed, Hackney or sumpter that
groom may lead; The reason else our swords shall tell." "It is sooth," said
Gan, "and I know it well."
Fiercely once more Count Roland turned To speak the scorn that in him burned.
"Ha! deem'st thou, dastard, of dastard race, That I shall drop the glove in place,
As in sight of Karl thou didst the mace?"
Then of his uncle he made demand: "Yield me the bow that you hold in hand; Never
of me shall the tale be told, As of Ganelon erst, that it failed my hold." Sadly the
Emperor bowed his head, With working finger his beard he spread, Tears in his own despite
But soon Duke Naimes doth by him stand No better vassal in all his band. "You have
seen and heard it all, O sire, Count Roland waxeth much in ire. On him the choice for the
rear - guard fell, And where is baron could speed so well? Yield him the bow that your arm
hath bent, And let good succor to him be lent." The Emperor reached it forth, and lo!
He gave, and Roland received, the bow.
"Fair Sir Nephew, I tell thee free. Half of my host will I leave with thee."
"God be my judge," was the count's reply, "If ever I thus my race belie.
But twenty thousand with me shall rest, Bravest of all your Franks and best; The mountain
passes in safety tread, While I breathe in life you have nought to dread."
Count Roland sprang to a hill - top's height, And donned his peerless armor bright;
Laced his helm, for a baron made; Girt Durindana, gold - hilted blade; Around his neck he
hung the shield, With flowers emblazoned was the field; Nor steed but Veillantif will
ride; And he grasped his lance with its pennon's pride. White was the pennon, with rim of
gold; Low to the handle the fringes rolled. Who are his lovers men now may see; And the
Franks exclaim, "We will follow thee."
Roland hath mounted his charger on; Sir Olivier to his side hath gone; Gerein and his
fellow in arms, Gerier; Otho the Count, and Berengier, Samson, and with him Anseis old,
Gerard of Roussillon, the bold. Thither the Gascon Engelier sped; "I go," said
Turpin, "I pledge my head;" "And I with thee," Count Walter said;
"I am Roland's man, to his service bound." So twenty thousand knights were
Roland beckoned Count Walter then. "Take of our Franks a thousand men; Sweep the
heights and the passes clear, That the Emperor's host may have nought to fear."
"I go," said Walter, "at your behest," And a thousand Franks around
him pressed. They ranged the heights and passes through, Nor for evil tidings backward
drew, Until seven hundred swords outflew. The Lord of Belferna's land, that day, King
Almaris met him in deadly fray.
Through Roncesvalles the march began; Ogier, the baron, led the van; For them was
neither doubt nor fear, Since Roland rested to guard the rear, With twenty thousand in
full array: Theirs the battle - be God their stay. Gan knows all; in his felon heart
Scarce hath he courage to play his part.
High were the peaks, and the valleys deep, The mountains wondrous dark and steep; Sadly
the Franks through the passes wound, Full fifteen leagues did their tread resound. To
their own great land they are drawing nigh, And they look on the fields of Gascony. They
think of their homes and their manors there, Their gentle spouses and damsels fair. Is
none but for pity the tear lets fall; But the anguish of Karl is beyond them all. His
sister's son at the gates of Spain Smites on his heart, and he weeps amain.
On the Spanish marches the twelve abide, With twice ten thousand Franks beside. Fear to
die have they none, nor care: But Karl returns into France the fair; Beneath his mantle
his face he hides. Naimes, the duke, at his bridle rides. "Say, sire, what grief doth
your heart oppress?" "To ask," he said, "brings worse distress; I
cannot but weep for heaviness. By Gan the ruin of France is wrought. In an angel's vision,
last night, methought He wrested forth from my hand the spear: 'Twas he gave Roland to
guard the rear. God! should I lose him, my nephew dear, Whom I left on a foreign soil
behind, His peer on earth I shall never find!"
Karl the Great cannot choose but weep, For him hath his host compassion deep; And for
Roland, a marvellous boding dread. It was Gan, the felon, this treason bred; He hath
heathen gifts of silver and gold, Costly raiment, and silken fold, Horses and camels, and
mules and steeds. But lo! King Marsil the mandate speeds, To his dukes, his counts, and
his vassals all, To each almasour and amiral. And so, before three suns had set, Four
hundred thousand in muster met. Through Saragossa the tabors sound; On the loftiest turret
they raise Mahound: Before him the Pagans bend and pray, Then mount and fiercely ride
away, Across Cerdagna, by vale and height, Till stream the banners of France in sight,
Where the peers of Carlemaine proudly stand, And the shock of battle is hard at hand.
Up to King Marsil his nephew rode, With a mule for steed, and a staff for goad: Free
and joyous his accents fell, "Fair Sir King, I have served you well. So let my toils
and my perils tell. I have fought and vanquished for you in field. One good boon for my
service yield, Be it mine on Roland to strike the blow; At point of lance will I lay him
low; And so Mohammed to aid me deign, Free will I sweep the soil of Spain, From the gorge
of Aspra to Dourestan, Till Karl grows weary such wars to plan. Then for your life have
you won repose." King Marsil on him his glove bestows.
His nephew, while the glove he pressed, Proudly once more the king addressed.
"Sire, you have crowned my dearest vow; Name me eleven of your barons now, In battle
against the twelve to bide." Falsaron first to the call replied; Brother to Marsil,
the king, was he; "Fair Sir nephew, I go with thee; In mortal combat we front, to -
day, The rear - guard of the grand array. Foredoomed to die by our spears are they,"
King Corsablis the next drew nigh, Miscreant Monarch of Barbary; Yet he spake like
vassal staunch and bold Blench would he not for all God's gold. The third, Malprimis, of
Brigal's breed, More fleet of foot than the fleetest steed, Before King Marsil he raised
his cry, "On unto Roncesvalles I: In mine encounter shall Roland die."
An Emir of Balaguet came in place, Proud of body, and fair of face; Since first he
sprang on steed to ride, To wear his harness was all his pride; For feats of prowess great
laud he won; Were he Christian, nobler baron none. To Marsil came he, and cried aloud,
"Unto Roncesvalles mine arm is vowed; May I meet with Roland and Olivier, Or the
twelve together, their doom is near. The Franks shall perish in scathe and scorn; Karl the
Great, who is old and worn, Weary shall grow his hosts to lead, And the land of Spain be
for ever freed." King Marsil's thanks were his gracious meed.
A Mauritanian Almasour (Breathed not in Spain such a felon Moor) Stepped unto Marsil,
with braggart boast: "Unto Roncesvalles I lead my host, Full twenty thousand, with
lance and shield. Let me meet with Roland upon the field, Lifelong tears for him Karl
Turgis, Count of Tortosa came. Lord of the city, he bears its name. Scathe to the
Christian to him is best, And in Marsil's presence he joined the rest. To the king he
said. "Be fearless found; Peter of Rome cannot mate Mahound. If we serve him truly,
we win this day; Unto Roncesvalles I ride straightway. No power shall Roland from
slaughter save: See the length of my peerless glaive, That with Durindana to cross I go,
And who the victor, ye then shall know. Sorrow and shame old Karl shall share, Crown on
earth never more shall wear."
Lord of Valtierra was Escremis; Saracen he, and the region his; He cried to Marsil,
amid the throng, "Unto Roncesvalles I spur along, The pride of Roland in dust to
tread, Nor shall he carry from thence his head; Nor Olivier who leads the band. And of all
the twelve is the doom at hand. The Franks shall perish, and France be lorn, And Karl of
his bravest vassals shorn."
Estorgan next to Marsil hied, With Estramarin his mate beside. Hireling traitors and
felons they. Aloud cried Marsil, "My lords, away Unto Roncesvalles, the pass to gain,
Of my people's captains ye shall be twain." "Sire, full welcome to us the call,
On Roland and Olivier we fall. None the twelve from their death shall screen, The swords
we carry are bright and keen; We will dye them red with the hot blood's vent, The Franks
shall perish and Karl lament. We will yield all France as your tribute meet. Come, that
the vision your eyes may greet; The Emperor's self shall be at your feet."
With speed came Margaris - lord was he Of the land of Sibilie to the sea; Beloved of
dames for his beauty's sake, Was none but joy in his look would take, The goodliest knight
of heathenesse, And he cried to the king over all the press, "Sire, let nothing your
heart dismay; I will Roland in Roncesvalles slay, Nor thence shall Olivier scathless come,
The peers await but their martyrdom. The Emir of Primis bestowed this blade; Look on its
hilt, with gold inlaid: It shall crimsoned be with the red blood's trace: Death to the
Franks, and to France disgrace! Karl the old, with he's beard to white, Shall have pain
and sorrow both day and night; France shall be ours ere a year go by; At Saint Denys'
bourg shall our leaguer lie." King Marsil bent him reverently.
Chernubles is there, from the valley black, His long hair makes on the earth its track;
A load, when it lists him, he bears in play, Which four mules' burthen would well
outweigh. Men say, in the land where he was born Nor shineth sun, nor springeth corn, Nor
falleth rain, nor droppeth dew; The very stones are of sable hue. 'Tis the home of demons,
as some assert. And he cried, "My good sword have I girt, In Roncesvalles to dye it
red. Let Roland but in my pathway tread, Trust ye to me that I strike him dead, His
Durindana beat down with mine. The Franks shall perish and France decline." Thus were
mustered King Marsil's peers, With a hundred thousand heathen spears. In haste to press to
the battle on, In a pine - tree forest their arms they don.
They don their hauberks of Saracen mould, Wrought for the most with a triple fold; In
Saragossa their helms were made; Steel of Vienne was each girded blade; Valentia lances
and targets bright, Pennons of azure and red and white. The leave their sumpters and mules
aside, Leap on their chargers and serried ride. Bright was the sunshine and fair the day;
Their arms resplendent gave back the ray. Then sound a thousand clarions clear, Till the
Franks the mighty clangor hear, "Sir Comrade," said Olivier, "I trow There
is battle at hand with the Saracen foe." "God grant," said Roland, "it
may be so. Here our post for our king we hold; For his lord the vassal bears heat and
cold, Toil and peril endures for him, Risks in his service both life and limb. For mighty
blows let our arms be strung, Lest songs of scorn be against us sung. With the Christian
is good, with the heathen ill: No dastard part shall ye see me fill."
The Prelude Of The Great Battle
Olivier clomb to a mountain height, Glanced through the valley that stretched to right;
He saw advancing the Saracen men, And thus to Roland he spake agen: "What sights and
sounds from the Spanish side, White gleaming hauberks and helms in pride? In deadliest
wrath our Franks shall be! Ganelon wrought this perfidy; It was he who doomed us to hold
the rear." "Hush," said Roland; "O Olivier, No word be said of my
Sir Olivier to the peak hath clomb, Looks far on the realm of Spain therefrom; He sees
the Saracen power arrayed, Helmets gleaming with gold inlaid, Shields and hauberks in
serried row, Spears with pennons that from them flow. He may not reckon the mighty mass,
So far their numbers his thought surpass. All in bewilderment and dismay, Down from the
mountain he takes his way, Comes to the Franks the tale to say.
"I have seen the paynim," said Olivier. "Never on earth did such host
appear: A hundred thousand with targets bright, With helmets laced and hauberks white,
Erect and shining their lances tall; Such battle as waits you did ne'er befall. My Lords
of France, be God your stay, That you be not vanquished in field to - day."
"Accursed," say the Franks, "be they who fly None shall blench from the
fear to die."
"In mighty strength are the heathen crew," Olivier said, "and our Franks
are few; My comrade, Roland, sound on your horn; Karl will hear and his host return."
"I were mad," said Roland, "to do such deed; Lost in France were my glory's
meed. My Durindana shall smite full hard, And her hilt be red to the golden guard. The
heathen felons shall find their fate; Their death, I swear, in the pass they wait."
"O Roland, sound on your ivory horn, To the ear of Karl shall the blast be borne:
He will bid his legions backward bend, And all his barons their aid will lend."
"Now God forbid it, for very shame, That for me my kindred were stained with blame,
Or that gentle France to such vileness fell: This good sword that hath served me well, My
Durindana such strokes shall deal, That with blood encrimsoned shall be the steel. By
their evil star are the felons led; They shall all be numbered among the dead."
"Roland, Roland, yet wind one blast! Karl will hear ere the gorge be passed, And
the Franks return on their path full fast." "I will not sound on mine ivory
horn: It shall never be spoken of me in scorn, That for heathen felons one blast I blew; I
may not dishonor my Lineage true. But I will strike, ere this fight be o'er, A thousand
strokes and seven hundred more, And my Durindana shall drip with gore. Our Franks will
bear them like vassals brave The Saracens flock but to find a grave."
"I deem of neither reproach nor stain. I have seen the Saracen host of Spain, Over
plain and valley and mountain spread, And the regions hidden beneath their tread.
Countless the swarm of the foe, and we A marvellous little company." Roland answered
him, "All the more My spirit within me burns therefore. God and his angels of heaven
defend That France through me from her glory bend. Death were better than fame laid low.
Our Emperor loveth a downright blow."
Roland is daring and Olivier wise, Both of marvellous high emprise; On their chargers
mounted, and girt in mail, To the death in battle they will not quail. Brave are the
counts, and their words are high, And the Pagans are fiercely riding nigh. "See,
Roland, see them, how close they are, The Saracen foemen, and Karl how far! Thou didst
disdain on thy horn to blow. Were the king but here we were spared this woe. Look up
through Aspra's dread defile, Where standeth our doomed rear - guard the while; They will
do their last brave feat this day, No more to mingle in mortal fray."
"Hush!" said Roland, "the craven tale Foul fall who carries a heart so
pale; Foot to foot shall we hold the place, And rain our buffets and blows apace."
When Roland felt that the battle came, Lion or leopard to him were tame; He shouted
aloud to his Franks, and then Called to his gentle compeer agen. "My friend, my
comrade, my Olivier, The Emperor left us his bravest here; Twice ten thousand he set
apart, And he knew among them no dastard heart. For his lord the vassal must bear the
stress Of the winter's cold and the sun's excess Peril his flesh and his blood thereby:
Strike thou with thy good lance - point and I, With Durindana, the matchless glaive Which
the king himself to my keeping gave, That he who wears it when I lie cold May say 'twas
the sword of a vassal bold."
Archbishop Turpin, above the rest, Spurred his steed to a jutting crest. His sermon
thus to the Franks he spake: "Lords, we are here for our monarch's sake; Hold we for
him, though our death should come; Fight for the succor of Christendom. The battle
approaches - ye know it well, For ye see the ranks of the infidel. Cry mea culpa, and
lowly kneel; I will assoil you, your souls to heal. In death ye are holy martyrs
crowned." The Franks alighted, and knelt on ground; In God's high name the host he
blessed, And for penance gave them - to smite their best.
The Franks arose from bended knee, Assoiled, and from their sins set free; The
archbishop blessed them fervently: Then each one sprang on his bounding barb, Armed and
laced in knightly garb, Apparelled all for the battle line. At last said Roland,
"Companion mine, Too well the treason is now displayed, How Ganelon hath our band
betrayed. To him the gifts and the treasures fell; But our Emperor will avenge us well.
King Marsil deemeth us bought and sold; The price shall be with our good swords
Roland rideth the passes through, On Veillantif, his charger true; Girt in his harness
that shone full fair, And baron - like his lance he bare. The steel erect in the sunshine
gleamed, With the snow - white pennon that from it streamed; The golden fringes beat on
his hand. Joyous of visage was he, and bland, Exceeding beautiful of frame; And his
warriors hailed him with glad acclaim. Proudly he looked on the heathen ranks, Humbly and
sweetly upon his Franks. Courteously spake he, in words of grace "Ride. my barons, at
gentle pace. The Saracens here to their slaughter toil: Reap we, to - day, a glorious
spoil, Never fell to Monarch of France the like." At his words, the hosts are in act
Said Olivier, "Idle is speech, I trow; Thou didst disdain on thy horn to blow.
Succor of Karl is far apart; Our strait he knows not, the noble heart: Not to him nor his
host be blame; Therefore, barons, in God's good name, Press ye onward, and strike your
best, Make your stand on this field to rest; Think but of blows, both to give and take,
Never the watchword of Karl forsake. Then from the Franks resounded high
"Montjoie!" Whoever had heard that cry Would hold remembrance of chivalry. Then
ride they - how proudly, O God, they ride! With rowels dashed in their coursers' side.
Fearless, too, are their paynim foes. Frank and Saracen, thus they close.
King Marsil's nephew, Aelroth his name, Vaunting in font of the battle came, Words of
scorn on our Franks he cast: "Felon Franks, ye are met at last, By your chosen
guardian betrayed and sold, By your king left madly the pass to hold. This day shall
France of her fame be shorn, And from Karl the mighty his right arm torn." Roland
heard him in wrath and pain! He spurred his steed, he slacked the rein, Drave at the
heathen with might and main, Shattered his shield and his hauberk broke, Right to the
breast - bone went the stroke; Pierced him, spine and marrow through, And the felon's soul
from his body flew. A moment reeled he upon his horse, Then all heavily dropped the corse;
Wrenched was his neck as on earth he fell, Yet would Roland scorn with scorn repel.
"Thou dastard! never hath Karl been mad, Nor love for treason or traitors had. To
guard the passes he left us here, Like a noble king and chevalier. Nor shall France this
day her fame forego. Strike in, my barons; the foremost blow Dealt in the fight doth to us
belong: We have the right and these dogs the wrong."
A duke was there, named Falsaron, Of the land of Dathan and Abiron; Brother to Marsil,
the king, was he; More miscreant felon ye might not see. Huge of forehead, his eyes
between, A span of a full half - foot, I ween. Bitter sorrow was his, to mark His nephew
before him lie slain and stark. Hastily came he from forth the press, Raising the war -
cry of heathenesse. Braggart words from his lips were tost: "This day the honour of
France is lost." Hotly Sir Olivier's anger stirs; He pricked his steed with golden
spurs, Fairly dealt him a baron's blow, And hurled him dead from the saddle - blow.
Buckler and mail were reft and rent, And the pennon's flaps to his heart's blood went. He
saw the miscreant stretched on eath: "Caitiff, thy threats are of little worth. On,
Franks! the felons before us fall; Montjoie!" 'Tis the Emperor's battle - call.
A king was there of a strange countrie, King Corsablis of Barbary; Before the Saracen
van he cried, "Right well may we in this battle bide; Puny the host of the Franks I
deem, And those that front us, of vile esteem. Not one by succor of Karl shall fly; The
day hath dawned that shall see them die." Archbishop Turpin hath heard him well; No
mortal hates he with hate so fell: He pricked with spurs of the fine gold wrought, And in
deadly passage the heathen sought; Shield and corselet were pierced and riven, And the
lance's point through his body driven; To and fro, at the mighty thrust, He reeled, and
then fell stark in dust. Turpin looked on him, stretched on ground. "Loud thou liest,
thou heathen hound! King Karl is ever our pride and stay; Nor one of the Franks shall
blench this day, But your comrades here on the field shall lie; I bring you tidings: ye
all shall die. Strike, Franks! remember your chivalry; First blows are ours, high God be
praised!" Once more the cry, "Montjoie!" he raised.
Gerein to Malprimis of Brigal sped, Whose good shield stood him no whit in stead; Its
knob of crystal was cleft in twain, And one half fell on the battle plain. Right through
the hauberk, and through the skin, He drave the lance to the flesh within; Prone and
sudden the heathen fell, And Satan carried his soul to hell.
Anon, his comrade in arms, Gerier, Spurred at the Emir with levelled spear, Severed his
shield and his mail apart, The lance went through them, to pierce his heart. Dead on the
field at the blow he lay. Olivier said, "'Tis a stirring fray."
At the Almasour's shield Duke Samson rode With blazon of flowers and gold it glowed;
But nor shield nor cuirass availed to save, When through heart and lungs the lance he
drave. Dead lies he, weep him who list or no. The Archbishop said. "Tis a baron's
Anseis cast his bridle free; At Turgis, Tortosa's lord, rode he: Above the centre his
shield he smote, Brake his mail with its double coat, Speeding the lance with a stroke so
true, That the iron traversed his body through. So lay he lifeless, at point of spear.
Said Roland, "Struck like a cavalier."
Engelier, Gascon of Bordeaux, On his courser's mane let the bridle flow; Smote
Escremis, from Valtierra sprung, Shattered the shield from his neck that swung; On through
his hauberk's vental pressed, And betwixt his shoulders pierced his breast. Forth from the
saddle he cast him dead. "So shall ye perish all," he said.
The heathen Estorgan was Otho's aim: Right in front of his shield he came; Rent its
colors of red and white, Pierced the joints of his harness bright, Flung him dead from his
bridle rein. Said Otho, "Thus shall ye all be slain."
Berengier smote Estramarin, Planting his lance his heart within, Through shivered
shield and hauberk torn. The Saracen to earth was borne Amid a thousand of his train. Thus
ten of the heathen twelve are slain; But two are left alive I wis Chernubles and Count
Count Margaris was a valiant knight, Stalwart of body, and lithe and light: He spurred
his steed unto Olivier, Brake his shield at the golden sphere, Pushed the lance till it
touched his side; God of his grace made it harmless glide. Margaris rideth unhurt withal,
Sounding his trumpet, his men to call.
Mingled and marvellous grows the fray, And in Roland's heart is no dismay. He fought
with lance while his good lance stood; Fifteen encounters have strained its wood. At the
last it brake; then he grasped in hand His Durindana, his naked brand. He smote
Chernubles' helm upon, Where, in the centre, carbuncles shone: Down through his coif and
his fell of hair, Betwixt his eyes came the falchion bare, Down through his plated harness
fine, Down through the Saracen's chest and chine, Down through the saddle with gold
inlaid, Till sank in the living horse the blade, Severed the spine where no joint was
found, And horse and rider lay dead on ground. "Caitiff, thou camest in evil hour; To
save thee passeth Mohammed's power. Never to miscreants like to thee Shall come the
guerdon of victory."
Count Roland rideth the battle through, With Durindana, to cleave and hew; Havoc fell
of the foe he made, Saracen corse upon corse was laid, The field all flowed with the
bright blood shed; Roland, to corselet and arm, was red Red his steed to the neck and
flank. Nor is Olivier niggard of blows as frank; Nor to one of the peers be blame this
day, For the Franks are fiery to smite and slay. "Well fought," said Turpin,
"our barons true!" And he raised the war - cry, "Montjoie" anew.
Through the storm of battle rides Olivier, His weapon, the butt of his broken spear,
Down upon Malseron's shield he beat, Where flowers and gold emblazoned meet, Dashing his
eyes from forth his head: Low at his feet were the brains bespread, And the heathen lies
with seven hundred dead! Estorgus and Turgin next he slew, Till the shaft he wielded in
splinters flew. "Comrade!" said Roland, "what makest thou? Is it time to
fight with a truncheon now? Steel and iron such strife may claim; Where is thy sword,
Hauteclere by name, With its crystal pommel and golden guard?" "Of time to draw
it I stood debarred, Such stress was on me of smiting hard."
Then drew Sir Olivier forth his blade, As had his comrade Roland prayed. He proved it
in knightly wise straightway, On the heathen Justin of Val Ferree. At a stroke he severed
his head in two, Cleft him body and harness through; Down through the gold - incrusted
selle, To the horse's chine, the falchion fell: Dead on the sward lay man and steed. Said
Roland, "My brother, henceforth, indeed The Emperor loves us for such brave
blows!" Around them the cry of "Montjoie!" arose.
Gerein his Sorel rides; Gerier Is mounted on his own Pass - deer: The reins they
slacken, and prick full well Against the Saracen Timozel. One smites his cuirass, and one
his shield, Break in his body the spears they wield; They cast him dead on the fallow
mould. I know not, nor yet to mine ear was told, Which of the twain was more swift and
bold. Then Espreveris, Borel's son, By Engelier unto death was done. Archbishop Turpin
slew Siglorel, The wizard, who erst had been in hell, By Jupiter thither in magic led.
"Well have we 'scaped," the archbishop said: "Crushed is the caitiff,"
Count Roland replies, "Olivier, brother, such strokes I prize!"
Furious waxeth the fight, and strange; Frank and heathen their blows exchange; While
these defend, and those assail, And their lances broken and bloody fail. Ensign and pennon
are rent and cleft, And the Franks of their fairest youth bereft, Who will look on mother
or spouse no more, Or the host that waiteth the gorge before. Karl the Mighty may weep and
wail; What skilleth sorrow, if succour fail? An evil service was Gan's that day, When to
Saragossa he bent his way, His faith and kindred to betray. But a doom thereafter awaited
him Amerced in Aix, of life and limb, With thirty of his kin beside, To whom was hope of
King Almaris with his band, the while, Wound through a marvellous strait defile, Where
doth Count Walter the heights maintain And the passes that lie at the gates of Spain.
"Gan, the traitor, hath made of us," Said Walter, "a bargain full
King Almaris to the mount hath clomb, With sixty thousand of heathendom. In deadly
wrath on the Franks they fall, And with furious onset smite them all: Routed, scattered or
slain they lie. Then rose the wrath of Count Walter high; His sword he drew, his helm he
laced, Slowly in front of the line he paced, And with evil greeting his foeman faced.
Right on his foemen doth Walter ride, And the heathen assail him on every side; Broken
down was his shield of might, Bruised and pierced was his hauberk white; Four lances at
once did his body wound: No longer bore he - four times he swooned; He turned perforce
from the field aside, Slowly adown the mount he hied, And aloud to Roland for succour
Wild and fierce is the battle still: Roland and Olivier fight their fill; The
Archbishop dealeth a thousand blows Nor knoweth one of the peers repose; The Franks are
fighting commingled all, And the foe in hundreds and thousands fall; Choice have they none
but to flee or die, Leaving their lives despighteously. Yet the Franks are reft of their
chivalry, Who will see nor parent nor kindred fond, Nor Karl who waits them the pass
Now a wondrous storm o'er France hath passed, With thunder - stroke and whirlwind's
blast; Rain unmeasured, and hail, there came, Sharp and sudden the lightning's flame; And
an earthquake ran - the sooth I say, From Besancon city to Wissant Bay; From Saint
Michael's Mount to thy shrine, Cologne, House unrifted was there none. And a darkness
spread in the noontide high No light, save gleams from the cloven sky. On all who saw came
a mighty fear. They said, "The end of the world is near." Alas, they spake but
with idle breath, 'Tis the great lament for Roland's death.
Dread are the omens and fierce the storm, Over France the signs and wonders swarm: From
noonday on to the vesper hour, Night and darkness alone have power; Nor sun nor moon one
ray doth shed, Who sees it ranks him among the dead. Well may they suffer such pain and
woe, When Roland, captain of all, lies low. Never on earth hath his fellow been, To slay
the heathen or realms to win.
Stern and stubborn is the fight; Staunch are the Franks with the sword to smite; Nor is
there one but whose blade is red, "Montjoie!" is ever their war - cry dread.
Through the land they ride in hot pursuit, And the heathens feel 'tis a fierce dispute.
In wrath and anguish, the heathen race Turn in flight from the field their face; The
Franks as hotly behind them strain. Then might ye look on a cumbered plain: Saracens
stretched on the green grass bare, Helms and hauberks that shone full fair, Standards
riven and arms undone: So by the Franks was the battle won. The foremost battle that then
befell O God, what sorrow remains to tell!
With heart and prowess the Franks have stood; Slain was the heathen multitude; Of a
hundred thousand survive not two: The archbishop crieth, "O staunch and true! Written
it is in the Frankish geste, That out Emperor's vassals shall bear them best." To
seek their dead through the field they press, And their eyes drop tears of tenderness:
Their hearts are turned to their kindred dear. Marsil the while with his host is near.
Distraught was Roland with wrath and pain; Distraught were the twelve of Carlemaine
With deadly strokes the Franks have striven, And the Saracen horde to the slaughter given;
Of a hundred thousand escaped but one King Margaris fled from the field alone; But no
disgrace in his flight he bore Wounded was he by lances four. To the side of Spain did he
take his way, To tell King Marsil what chanced that day.
Alone King Margaris left the field, With broken spear and pierced shield, Scarce half a
foot from the knob remained, And his brand of steel with blood was stained; On his body
were four lance wounds to see: Were he Christian, what a baron he! He sped to Marsil his
tale to tell; Swift at the feet of the king he fell: "Ride, sire, on to the field
forthright, You will find the Franks in an evil plight; Full half and more of their host
lies slain, And sore enfeebled who yet remain; Nor arms have they in their utmost need: To
crush them now were an easy deed," Marsil listened with heart aflame. Onward in
search of the Franks he came.
King Marsil on through the valley sped, With the mighty host he has marshalled. Twice
ten battalions the king arrayed: Helmets shone, with their gems displayed. Bucklers and
braided hauberks bound, Seven thousand trumpets the onset sound; Dread was the clangor
afar to hear. Said Roland, "My brother, my Olivier, Gan the traitor our death hath
sworn, Nor may his treason be now forborne. To our Emperor vengeance may well belong, To
us the battle fierce and strong; Never hath mortal beheld the like. With my Durindana I
trust to strike; And thou, my comrade, with thy Hauteclere: We have borne them gallantly
otherwhere. So many fields 'twas ours to gain, They shall sing against us no scornful
As the Franks the heathen power descried, Filling the champaign from side to side, Loud
unto Roland they made their call, And to Olivier and their captains all, Spake the
archbishop as him became: "O barons, think not one thought of shame; Fly not, for
sake of our God I pray. That on you be chaunted no evil lay. Better by far on the field to
die; For in sooth I deem that our end is nigh. But in holy Paradise ye shall meet, And
with the innocents be your seat." The Franks exult his words to hear, And the cry
"Montjoie;" resoundeth clear.
King Marsil on the hill - top bides, While Grandonie with his legion rides. He nails
his flag with three nails of gold: "Ride ye onwards, my barons bold." Then loud
a thousand clarions rang. And the Franks exclaimed as they heard the clang "O God,
our Father, what cometh on! Woe that we ever saw Ganelon: Foully, by treason, he us
betrayed." Gallantly then the archbishop said, "Soldiers and lieges of God are
ye, And in Paradise shall your guerdon be. To lie on its holy flowerets fair, Dastard
never shall enter there." Say the Franks, "We will win it every one." The
archbishop bestoweth his benison. Proudly mounted they at his word, And, like lions
chafed, at the heathen spurred.
Thus doth King Marsil divide his men: He keeps around him battalions ten. As the Franks
the other ten descry, "What dark disaster," they said, "is nigh? What doom
shall now our peers betide?" Archbishop Turpin full well replied. "My cavaliers,
of God the friends, Your crown of glory to - day He sends, To rest on the flowers of
Paradise, That never were won by cowardice." The Franks made answer, "No cravens
we, Nor shall we gainsay God's decree; Against the enemy yet we hold, Few may we be, but
staunch and bold." Their spurs against the foe they set, Frank and paynim - once more
A heathen of Saragossa came. Full half the city was his to claim. It was Climorin:
hollow of heart was he, He had plighted with Gan in perfidy, What time each other on mouth
they kissed, And he gave him his helm and amethyst. He would bring fair France from her
glory down And from the Emperor wrest his crown. He sate upon Barbamouche, his steed, Than
hawk or swallow more swift in speed. Pricked with the spur, and the rein let flow, To
strike at the Gascon of Bordeaux, Whom shield nor cuirass availed to save. Within his
harness the point he drave, The sharp steel on through his body passed, Dead on the field
was the Gascon cast. Said Climorin, "Easy to lay them low: Strike in, my pagans, give
blow for blow." For their champion slain, the Franks cry woe.
Sir Roland called unto Olivier, "Sir Comrade, dead lieth Engelier; Braver knight
had we none than he." "God grant," he answered, "revenge to me."
His spurs of gold to his horse he laid, Grasping Hauteclere with his bloody blade.
Climorin smote he, with stroke so fell, Slain at the blow was the infidel. Whose soul the
Enemy bore away. Then turned he, Alphaien,the duke, to slay; From Escababi the head he
shore, And Arabs seven to the earth he bore. Saith Roland, "My comrade is much in
wrath; Won great laud by my side he hath; Us such prowess to Karl endears. Fight on, fight
ever, my cavaliers."
Then came the Saracen Valdabrun, Of whom King Marsil was foster - son. Four hundred
galleys he owned at sea, And of all the mariners lord was he. Jerusalem erst he had
falsely won, Profaned the temple of Solomon, Slaying the patriarch at the fount. 'Twas he
who in plight unto Gan the count, His sword with a thousond coins bestowed. Gramimond
named he the steed he rode, Swifter than ever was falcon's flight; Well did he prick with
the sharp spurs bright, To strike Duke Samson, the fearless knight. Buckler and cuirass at
once he rent, And his pennon's flaps through his body sent; Dead he cast him, with
levelled spear. "Strike, ye heathens; their doom is near." The Franks cry woe
for their cavalier.
When Roland was ware of Samson slain, Well may you weet of his bitter pain. With bloody
spur he his steed impelled, While Durindana aloft he held, The sword more costly than
purest gold; And he smote, with passion uncontrolled, On the heathen's helm, with its
jewelled crown, Through head, and cuirass, and body down, And the saddle embossed with
gold, till sank The griding steel in the charger's flank; Blame or praise him, the twain
he slew. "A fearful stroke!" said the heathen crew. "I shall never love
you," Count Roland cried. "With you are falsehood and evil pride."
From Afric's shore, of Afric's brood, Malquiant, son of King Malcus stood; Wrought of
the beaten gold, his vest Flamed to the sun over all the rest. Saut - perdu hath he named
his horse, Fleeter than ever was steed in course; He smote Anseis upon the shield, Cleft
its vermeil and azure field, Severed the joints of his hauberk good, In his body planted
both steel and wood. Dead he lieth, his day is o'er, And the Franks the loss of their peer
Turpin rideth the press among; Never such priest the Mass had sung, Nor who hath such
feats of his body done. "God send thee'" he said, "His Malison! For the
knight thou slewest my heart is sore." He sets the spur to his steed once more,
Smites the shield in Toledo made, And the heathen low on the sward is laid.
Forth came the Saracen Grandonie, Bestriding his charger Marmorie; He was son unto
Cappadocia's king, And his steed was fleeter than bird on wing. He let the rein on his
neck decline, And spurred him hard against Count Gerein, Shattered the vermeil shield he
bore, And his armor of proof all open tore; In went the pennon, so fierce the shock, And
he cast him, dead, on a loft rock; Then he slew his comrade, in arms, Gerier, Guy of Saint
Anton and Berengier. Next lay the great Duke Astor prone. The Lord of Valence upon the
Rhone. Among the heathen great joy he cast. Say the Franks, lamenting, "We perish
Count Roland graspeth his bloody sword: Well hath he heard how the Franks deplored; His
heart is burning within his breast. "God's malediction upon thee rest! Right dearly
shalt thou this blood repay." His war - horse springs to the spur straightway, And
they come together - go down who may.
A gallant captain was Grandonie, Great in arms and in chivalry. Never, till then, had
he Roland seen, But well he knew him by form and mien, By the stately bearing and glance
of pride, And a fear was on him he might not hide. Fain would he fly, but it skills not
here; Roland smote him with stroke so sheer, That it cleft the nasal his helm beneath,
Slitting nostril and mouth and teeth, Cleft his body and mail of plate, And the gilded
saddle whereon he sate, Deep the back of the charger through: Beyond all succor the twain
he slew. From the Spanish ranks a wail arose, And the Franks exult in their champion's
The battle is wondrous yet, and dire, And the Franks are cleaving in deadly ire; Wrists
and ribs and chines afresh, And vestures, in to the living flesh; On the green grass
streaming the bright blood ran, "O mighty country, Mahound thee ban! For thy sons are
strong over might of man." And one and all unto Marsil cried, "Hither, O king,
to our succor ride."
Marvellous yet is the fight around, The Franks are thrusting with spears embrowned; And
great the carnage there to ken, Slain and wounded and bleeding men, Flung, each by other,
on back or face. Hold no more can the heathen race. They turn and fly from the field
apace; The Franks as hotly pursue in chase.
Knightly the deeds by Roland done, Respite or rest for his Franks is none; Hard they
ride on the heathen rear, At trot or gallop in full career. With crimson blood are their
bodies stained, And their brands of steel are snapped or strained; And when the weapons
their hands forsake, Then unto trumpet and horn they take. Serried they charge, in power
and pride; And the Saracens cry - "May ill betide The hour we came on this fatal
track!" So on our host do they turn the back, The Christians cleaving them as they
fled, Till to Marsil stretcheth the line of dead.
King Marsil looks on his legions strown, He bids the clarion blast be blown, With all
his host he onward speeds: Abime the heathen his vanguard leads. No felon worse in the
host than he, Black of hue as a shrivelled pea; He believes not in Holy Mary's Son; Full
many an evil deed hath done. Treason and murder he prizeth more Than all the gold of
Galicia's shore; Men never knew him to laugh nor jest, But brave and daring among the best
Endeared to the felon king therefor; And the dragon flag of his race he bore. The
archbishop loathed him - full well he might, And as he saw him he yearned to smite, To
himself he speaketh, low and quick, "This heathen seems much a heretic; I go to slay
him, or else to die, For I love not dastards or dastardy."
The archbishop began the fight once more; He rode the steed he had won of yore, When in
Denmark Grossaille the king he slew. Fleet the charger, and fair to view: His feet were
small and fashioned fine, Long the flank, and high the chine, Chest and croup full amply
spread, With taper ear and tawny head, And snow - white tail and yellow mane: To seek his
peer on earth were vain. The archbishop spurred him in fiery haste, And, on the moment
Abime he faced, Came down on the wondrous shield the blow, The shield with amethysts all
aglow, Carbuncle and topaz, each priceless stone; 'Twas once the Emir Galafir's own; A
demon gave it in Metas vale; But when Turpin smote it might nought avail From side to side
did his weapon trace, And he flung him dead in an open space. Say the Franks, "Such
deeds beseem the brave. Well the archbishop his cross can save."
Count Roland Olivier bespake: "Sir comrade, dost thou my thought partake? A braver
breathes not this day on earth Than our archbishop in knightly worth. How nobly smites he
with lance and blade!" Saith Olivier, "Yea, let us yield him aid;" And the
Franks once more the fight essayed. Stern and deadly resound the blows. For the
Christians, alas, 'tis a tale of woes!
The Franks of France of their arms are reft, Three hundred blades alone are left. The
glittering helms they smite and shred, And cleave asunder full many a head; Through riven
helm and hauberk rent, Maim head and foot and lineament. "Disfigured are we,"
the heathens cry. "Who guards him not hath but choice to die." Right unto Marsil
their way they take. "Help, O king, for your people's sake!" King Marsil heard
their cry at hand, "Mahound destroy thee, O mighty land; Thy race came hither to
crush mine own. What cities wasted and overthrown, Doth Karl of the hoary head possess!
Rome and Apulia his power confess, Constantinople and Saxony; Yet better die by the Franks
than flee. On, Saracens! recreant heart be none; If Roland live, we are all
Then with the lance did the heathens smite On shield and gleaming helmet bright; Of
steel and iron arose the clang, Towards heaven the flames and sparkles sprang; Brains and
blood on the champaign flowed; But on Roland's heart is a dreary load, To see his vassals
lie cold in death; His gentle France he remembereth, And his uncle, the good King
Carlemaine; And the spirit within him groans for pain.
Count Roland entered within the prease, And smote full deadly without surcease; While
Durindana aloft he held, Hauberk and helm he pierced and quelled, Intrenching body and
hand and head. The Saracens lie by the hundred dead, And the heathen host is discomfited.
Valiantly Olivier, otherwhere, Brandished on high his sword Hauteclere Save Durindana,
of swords the best. To the battle proudly he him addressed. His arms with the crimson
blood were dyed. "God, what a vassal!" Count Roland cried. "O gentle baron,
so true and leal, This day shall set on our love the seal! The Emperor cometh to find us
dead, For ever parted and severed. France never looked on such woful day; Nor breathes a
Frank but for us will pray, From the cloister cells shall the orisons rise, And our souls
find rest in Paradise." Olivier heard him, amid the throng, Spurred his steed to his
side along. Saith each to other, "Be near me still; We will die together, if God so
Roland and Olivier then are seen To lash and hew with their falchions keen; With his
lance the archbishop thrusts and slays, And the numbers slain we may well appraise; In
charter and writ is the tale expressed Beyond four thousand, saith the geste. In four
encounters they sped them well: Dire and grievous the fifth befell. The cavaliers of the
Franks are slain All but sixty, who yet remain; God preserved them, that ere they die,
They may sell their lives full hardily.
As Roland gazed on his slaughtered men, He bespake his gentle compeer agen: "Ah,
dear companion, may God thee shield! Behold, our bravest lie dead on field! Well may we
weep for France the fair, Of her noble barons despoiled and bare. Had he been with us, our
king and friend! Speak, my brother, thy counsel lend, How unto Karl shall we tidings
send?" Olivier answered, "I wist not how. Liefer death than be recreant
"I will sound," said Roland, "upon my horn, Karl, as he passeth the
gorge, to warn. The Franks, I know, will return apace." Said Olivier, "Nay, it
were foul disgrace On your noble kindred to wreak such wrong; They would bear the stain
their lifetime long. Erewhile I sought it, and sued in vain; But to sound thy horn thou
wouldst not deign. Not now shall mine assent be won, Nor shall I say it is knightly done.
Lo! both your arms are streaming red." "In sooth," said Roland, "good
strokes I sped."
Said Roland, "Our battle goes hard, I fear; I will sound my horn that Karl may
hear." "'Twere a deed unknightly," said Olivier; "Thou didst disdain
when I sought and prayed: Saved had we been with our Karl to aid; Unto him and his host no
blame shall be: By this my beard, might I hope to see My gentle sister Alda's face, Thou
shouldst never hold her in thine embrace."
"Ah, why on me doth thine anger fall?" "Roland, 'tis thou who hast
wrought it all. Valor and madness are scarce allied, Better discretion than daring pride.
All of thy folly our Franks lie slain, Nor shall render service to Karl again, As I
implored thee, if thou hadst done, The king had come and the field were won; Marsil
captive, or slain, I trow. Thy daring, Roland, hath wrought our woe. No service more unto
Karl we pay, That first of men till the judgment day; Thou shalt die, and France
dishonored be Ended our loyal company A woful parting this eve shall see."
Archbishop Turpin their strife hath heard, His steed with the spurs of gold he spurred,
And thus rebuked them, riding near: "Sir Roland, and thou, Sir Olivier, Contend not,
in God's great name, I crave. Not now availeth the horn to save; And yet behoves you to
wind its call, Karl will come to avenge our fall, Nor hence the foemen in joyance wend.
The Franks will all from their steeds descend; When they find us slain and martyred here,
They will raise our bodies on mule and bier, And, while in pity aloud they weep, Lay us in
hollowed earth to sleep; Nor wolf nor boar on our limbs shall feed." Said Roland,
"Yea, 'tis a goodly rede."
Then to his lips the horn he drew, And full and lustily he blew. The mountain peaks
soared high around; Thirty leagues was borne the sound. Karl hath heard it, and all his
band. "Our men have battle," he said, "on hand." Ganelon rose in front
and cried, "If another spake, I would say he lied."
With deadly travail, in stress and pain, Count Roland sounded the mighty strain. Forth
from his mouth the bright blood sprang, And his temples burst for the very pang. On and
onward was borne the blast, Till Karl hath heard as the gorge he passed, And Naimes and
all his men of war. "It is Roland's horn," said the Emperor, "And, save in
battle, he had not blown." "Battle," said Ganelon, "is there none. Old
are you grown - all white and hoar; Such words bespeak you a child once more. Have you,
then, forgotten Roland's pride, Which I marvel God should so long abide, How he captured
Noples without your hest? Forth from the city the heathen pressed, To your vassal Roland
they battle gave, He slew them all with the trenchant glaive, Then turned the waters upon
the plain, That trace of blood might none remain. He would sound all day for a single
hare: 'Tis a jest with him and his fellows there; For who would battle against him dare?
Ride onward - wherefore this chill delay? Your mighty land is yet far away."
On Roland's mouth is the bloody stain, Burst asunder his temple's vein; His horn he
soundeth in anguish drear; King Karl and the Franks around him hear. Said Karl, "That
horn is long of breath." Said Naimes, "'Tis Roland who travaileth. There is
battle yonder by mine avow. He who betrayed him deceives you now. Arm, sire; ring forth
your rallying cry, And stand your noble household by; For your hear your Roland in
The king commands to sound the alarm. To the trumpet the Franks alight and arm; With
casque and corselet and gilded brand, Buckler and stalwart lance in hand, Pennons of
crimson and white and blue, The barons leap on their steeds anew, And onward spur the
passes through; Nor is there one but to other saith, "Could we reach but Roland
before his death, Blows would we strike for him grim and great." Ah! what availeth! -
'tis all too late.
The evening passed into brightening dawn. Against the sun their harness shone; From
helm and hauberk glanced the rays, And their painted bucklers seemed all ablaze. The
Emperor rode in wrath apart. The Franks were moody and sad of heart; Was none but dropped
the bitter tear, For they thought of Roland with deadly fear. Then bade the Emperor take
and bind Count Gan, and had him in scorn consigned To Besgun, chief of his kitchen train.
"Hold me this felon," he said, "in chain." Then full a hundred round
him pressed, Of the kitchen varlets the worst and best; His beard upon lip and chin they
tore, Cuffs of the fist each dealt him four,
Roundly they beat him with rods and staves; Then around his neck those kitchen knaves
Flung a fetterlock fast and strong, As ye lead a bear in a chain along; On a beast of
burthen the count they cast, Till they yield him back to Karl at last.
Dark, vast, and high the summits soar, The waters down through the valleys pour, The
trumpets sound in front and rear, And to Roland's horn make answer clear. The Emperor
rideth in wrathful mood, The Franks in grievous solicitude; Nor one among them can stint
to weep, Beseeching God that He Roland keep, Till they stand beside him upon the field, To
the death together their arms to wield. Ah, timeless succor, and all in vain! Too long
they tarried, too late they strain.
Onward King Karl in his anger goes; Down on his harness his white beard flows. The
barons of France spur hard behind; But on all there presseth one grief of mind That they
stand not beside Count Roland then, As he fronts the power of the Saracen. Were he hurt in
fight, who would then survive? Yet three score barons around him strive. And what a sixty!
Nor chief nor king Had ever such gallant following.
Roland looketh to hill and plain, He sees the lines of his warriors slain, And he weeps
like a noble cavalier, "Barons of France, God hold you dear, And take you to
Paradise's bowers, Where your souls may lie on the holy flowers; Braver vassals on earth
were none, So many kingdoms for Karl ye won; Years a - many your ranks I led, And for end
like this were ye nurtured. Land of France, thou art soothly fair; To - day thou liest
bereaved and bare; It was all for me your lives you gave, And I was helpless to shield or
save. May the great God save you who cannot lie. Olivier, brother, I stand thee by; I die
of grief, if I 'scape unslain: In, brother, in to the fight again."
Once more pressed Roland within the fight, His Durindana he grasped with might; Faldron
of Pui did he cleave in two, And twenty - four of their bravest slew. Never was man on
such vengeance bound; And, as flee the roe - deer the hound, So in face of Roland the
heathen flee. Saith Turpin, "Right well this liketh me. Such prowess a cavalier
befits, Who harness wears, and on charger sits; In battle shall he be strong and great, Or
I prize him not at four deniers' rate; Let him else be monk in a cloister cell, His daily
prayers for our souls to tell." Cries Roland, "Smite them, and do not
spare." Down once more on the foe they bear, But the Christian ranks grow thinned and
Who knoweth ransom is none for him, Maketh in battle resistance grim; The Franks like
wrathful lions strike, But King Marsil beareth him baron - like; He bestrideth his
charger, Gaignon hight, And he pricketh him hard, Sir Beuve to smite, The Lord of Beaune
and of Dijon town, Through shield and cuirass, he struck him down: Dead past succor of man
he lay. Ivon and Ivor did Marsil slay; Gerard of Roussillon beside. Not far was Roland,
and loud he cried, "Be thou forever in God's disgrace, Who hast slain my fellows
before my face, Before we part thou shalt blows essay, And learn the name of my sword to -
day. Down, at the word, came the trenchant brand, And from Marsil severed his good right
hand: With another stroke, the head he won Of the fair - haired Jurfalez, Marsil's son.
"Help us, Mahound!" say the heathen train, "May our gods avenge us on
Carlemaine! Such daring felons he hither sent, Who will hold the field till their lives be
spent." "Let us flee and save us," cry one and all, Unto flight a hundred
thousand fall, Nor can aught the fugitives recall.
But what availeth? though Marsil fly, His uncle, the Algalif, still is nigh; Lord of
Carthagena is he, Of Alferna's shore and Garmalie, And of Ethiopia, accursed land: The
black battalions at his command, With nostrils huge and flattened ears, Outnumber fifty
thousand spears; And on they ride in haste and ire, Shouting their heathen war - cry dire.
"At last," said Roland, "the hour is come, Here receive we our martyrdom;
Yet strike with your burnished brands - accursed Who sells not his life right dearly
first; In life or death be your thought the same, That gentle France be not brought to
shame. When the Emperor hither his steps hath bent, And he sees the Saracens'
chastisement, Fifteen of their dead against our one, He will breathe on our souls his
Death of Olivier
When Roland saw the abhorred race, Than blackest ink more black in face, Who have
nothing white but the teeth alone, "Now," he said, "it is truly shown, That
the hour of our death is close at hand. Fight, my Franks, 'tis my last command." Said
Olivier, "Shame is the laggard's due," And at his word they engage anew.
When the heathen saw that the Franks were few, Heart and strength from the sight they
drew; They said, "The Emperor hath the worse." The Algalif sat on a sorrel
horse; He pricked with spurs of the gold refined, Smote Olivier in the back behind. On
through his harness the lance he pressed, Till the steel came out at the baron's breast.
"Thou hast it!" the Algalif, vaunting, cried, "Ye were sent by Karl in an
evil tide. Of his wrongs against us he shall not boast; In thee alone I avenge our
Olivier felt the deadly wound, Yet he grasped Hauteclere, with its steel embrowned; He
smote on the Algalif's crest of gold, Gem and flowers to the earth were rolled; Clave his
head to the teeth below, And struck him dead with the single blow. "All evil,
caitiff, thy soul pursue. Full well our Emperor's loss I Knew; But for thee - thou goest
not hence to boast To wife or dame on thy natal coast, Of one denier from the Emperor won,
Or of scathe to me or to others done." Then Roland's aid he called upon.
Olivier knoweth him hurt to death; The more to vengeance he hasteneth; Knightly as ever
his arms he bore, Staves of lances and shields he shore; Sides and shoulders and hands and
feet, Whose eyes soever the sight would greet, How the Saracens all disfigured lie, Corpse
upon corpse, each other by, Would think upon gallant deeds; nor yet Doth he the war - cry
of Karl forget "Montjoie!" he shouted, shrill and clear; Then called he Roland,
his friend and peer, "Sir, my comrade, anear me ride; This day of dolor shall us
Roland looked Olivier in the face, Ghastly paleness was there to trace; Forth from his
wound did the bright blood flow, And rain in showers to the earth below. "O
God!" said Roland, "is this the end Of all thy prowess, my gentle friend? Nor
know I whither to bear me now: On earth shall never be such as thou. Ah, gentle France,
thou art overthrown, Reft of thy bravest, despoiled and lone; The Emperor's loss is full
indeed!" At the word he fainted upon his steed.
See Roland there on his charger swooned, Olivier smitten with his death wound. His eyes
from bleeding are dimmed and dark, Nor mortal, near or far, can mark; And when his comrade
beside him pressed, Fiercely he smote on his golden crest; Down to the nasal the helm he
shred, But passed no further, nor pierced his head. Roland marvelled at such a blow, And
thus bespake him soft and low: "Hast thou done it, may comrade, wittingly? Roland who
loves thee so dear, am I, Thou hast no quarrel with me to seek?" Olivier answered,
"I hear thee speak, But I see thee not. God seeth thee. Have I struck thee, brother?
Forgive it me." "I am not hurt, O Olivier; And in sight of God, I forgive thee
here." Then each to other his head has laid, And in love like this was their parting
Olivier feeleth his throe begin; His eyes are turning his head within, Sight and
hearing alike are gone. He alights and couches the earth upon; His Mea Culpa aloud he
cries, And his hands in prayer unto God arise, That he grant him Paradise to share, That
he bless King Karl and France the fair, His brother Roland o'er all mankind; Then sank his
heart, and his head declined, Stretched at length on the earth he lay, So passed Sir
Olivier away. Roland was left to weep alone: Man so woful hath ne'er been known.
When Roland saw that life had fled, And with face to earth his comrade dead, He thus
bewept him, soft and still: "Ah, friend, thy prowess wrought thee ill! So many days
and years gone by We lived together, thou and I: And thou has never done me wrong, Nor I
to thee, our lifetime long. Since thou art dead, to live is pain." He swooned on
Veillantif again, Yet may not unto earth be cast, His golden stirrups held him fast.
When passed away had Roland's swoon, With sense restored, he saw full soon What ruin
lay beneath his view. His Franks have perished all save two The archbishop and Walter of
Hum alone. From the mountain - side hath Walter flown, Where he met in battle the bands of
Spain, And the heathen won and his men were slain In his own despite to the vale he came;
Called unto Roland, his aid to claim. "Ah, count! brave gentleman, gallant peer!
Where art thou? With thee I know not fear. I am Walter, who vanquished Maelgut of yore,
Nephew to Drouin, the old and hoar. For knightly deeds I was once thy friend. I fought the
Saracen to the end; My lance is shivered, my shield is cleft, Of my broken mail are but
fragments left. I bear in my body eight thrusts of spear; I die, but I sold my life right
dear." Count Roland heard as he spake the word, Pricked his steed, and anear him
"Walter," said Roland, "thou hadst affray With the Saracen foe on the
heights to - day. Thou wert wont a valorous knight to be: A thousand horsemen gave I thee;
Render them back, for my need is sore." "Alas, thou seest them never more!
Stretched they lie on the dolorous ground, Where myriad Saracen swarms we found,
Armenians, Turks, and the giant brood Of Balisa, famous for hardihood, Bestriding their
Arab coursers fleet, Such host in battle 'twas ours to meet; Nor vaunting thence shall the
heathen go, Full sixty thousand on earth lie low. With our brands of steel we avenged us
well, But every Frank by the foeman fell. My hauberk plates are riven wide, And I bear
such wounds in flank and side, That from every part the bright blood flows, And feebler
ever my body grows. I am dying fast, I am well aware: Thy liegeman I, and claim thy care.
If I fled perforce, thou wilt forgive, And yield me succor while thou dost live."
Roland sweated with wrath and pain, Tore the skirts of his vest in twain, Bound Walter's
every bleeding vein.
In Roland's sorrow his wrath arose, Hotly he struck at the heathen foes, Nor left he
one of a score alive; Walter slew six, the archbishop five. The heathens cry, "What a
felon three! Look to it, lords, that they shall not flee. Dastard is he who confronts them
not; Craven, who lets them depart this spot." Their cries and shoutings begin once
more, And from every side on the Franks they pour.
Count Roland in sooth is a noble peer; Count Walter, a valorous cavalier; The
archbishop, in battle proved and tried, Each struck as if knight there were none beside.
From their steeds a thousand Saracens leap, Yet forty thousand their saddles keep; I trow
they dare not approach them near, But they hurl against them lance and spear, Pike and
javelin, shaft and dart. Walter is slain as the missiles part; The archbishop's shield in
pieces shred, Riven his helm, and pierced his head; His corselet of steel they rent and
tore, Wounded his body with lances four; His steed beneath him dropped withal: What woe to
see the archbishop fall!
When Turpin felt him flung to ground, And four lance wounds within him found, He
swiftly rose, the dauntless man, To Roland looked, and nigh him ran. Spake but, "I am
not overthrown Brave warrior yields with life alone." He drew Almace's burnished
steel, A thousand ruthless blows to deal. In after time, the Emperor said He found four
hundred round him spread, Some wounded, others cleft in twain; Some lying headless on the
plain. So Giles the saint, who saw it, tells, For whom High God wrought miracles. In Laon
cell the scroll he wrote; He little weets who knows it not.
Count Roland combateth nobly yet, His body burning and bathed in sweat; In his brow a
mighty pain, since first, When his horn he sounded, his temple burst; But he yearns of
Karl's approach to know, And lifts his horn once more - but oh, How faint and feeble a
note to blow! The Emperor listened, and stood full still. "My lords," he said,
"we are faring ill. This day is Roland my nephew's last; Like dying man he winds that
blast. On! Who would aid, for life must press. Sound every trump our ranks possess."
Peal sixty thousand clarions high, The hills re - echo, the vales reply. It is now no jest
for the heathen band. "Karl!" they cry, "it is Karl at hand!"
They said, "'Tis the Emperor's advance, We hear the trumpets resound of France. If
he assail us, hope in vain; If Roland live, 'tis war again, And we lose for aye the land
of Spain." Four hundred in arms together drew, The bravest of the heathen crew; With
serried power they on him press, And dire in sooth is the count's distress.
When Roland saw his coming foes, All proud and stern his spirit rose; Alive he shall
never be brought to yield: Veillantif spurred he across the field, With golden spurs he
pricked him well, To break the ranks of the infidel; Archbishop Turpin by his side.
"Let us flee, and save us," the heathen cried; "These are the trumpets of
France we hear It is Karl, the mighty Emperor, near."
Count Roland never hath loved the base, Nor the proud of heart, nor the dastard race,
Nor knight, but if he were vassal good, And he spake to Turpin, as there he stood;
"On foot are you, on horseback I; For your love I halt, and stand you by. Together
for good and ill we hold; I will not leave you for man of mould. We will pay the heathen
their onset back, Nor shall Durindana of blows be slack." "Base," said
Turpin, "who spares to smite: When the Emperor comes, he will all requite."
The heathens said, "We were born to shame. This day for our disaster came: Our
lords and leaders in battle lost, And Karl at hand with his marshalled host; We hear the
trumpets of France ring out, And the cry 'Montjoie!' their rallying shout. Roland's pride
is of such a height, Not to be vanquished by mortal wight; Hurl we our missiles, and hold
aloof." And the word they spake, they put in proof, They flung, with all their
strength and craft, Javelin, barb, and plumed shaft. Roland's buckler was torn and frayed,
His cuirass broken and disarrayed, Yet entrance none to his flesh they made. From thirty
wounds Veillantif bled, Beneath his rider they cast him, dead; Then from the field have
the heathen flown: Roland remaineth, on foot, alone.
The Last Benediction of the Archbishop
The heathens fly in rage and dread; To the land of Spain have their footsteps sped; Nor
can Count Roland make pursuit Slain is his steed, and he rests afoot; To succor Turpin he
turned in haste, The golden helm from his head unlaced, Ungirt the corselet from his
breast, In stripes divided his silken vest; The archbishop's wounds hath he staunched and
bound, His arms around him softly wound; On the green sward gently his body laid, And,
with tender greeting, thus him prayed: "For a little space, let me take farewell; Our
dear companions, who round us fell, I go to seek; if I haply find, I will place them at
thy feet reclined." "Go," said Turpin; "the field is thine To God the
glory, 'tis thine and mine."
Alone seeks Roland the field of fight, He searcheth vale, the searcheth height. Ivon
and Ivor he found, laid low, And the Gascon Engelier of Bordeaux, Gerein and his fellow in
arms, Gerier; Otho he found, and Berengier; Samson the duke, and Anseis bold, Gerard of
Roussillon, the old. Their bodies, one after one, he bore, And laid them Turpin's feet
before. The archbishop saw them stretched arow, Nor can he hinder the tears that flow; In
benediction his hands he spread: "Alas! for your doom, my lords," he said,
"That God in mercy your souls may give, On the flowers of Paradise to live; Mines own
death comes, with anguish sore That I see mine Emperor never more."
Once more to the field doth Roland wend, Till he findeth Olivier his friend; The
lifeless form to his heart he strained, Bore him back with what strength remained, On a
buckler laid him, beside the rest, The archbishop assoiled them all, and blessed. Their
dole and pity anew find vent, And Roland maketh his fond lament: "My Olivier, my
chosen one, Thou wert the noble Duke Renier's son, Lord of the March unto Rivier vale. To
shiver lance and shatter mail, The brave in council to guide and cheer, To smite the
miscreant foe with fear, Was never on earth such cavalier."
Dead around him his peers to see, And the man he loved so tenderly, Fast the tears of
Count Roland ran, His visage discolored became, and wan, He swooned for sorrow beyond
control. "Alas," said Turpin, "how great thy dole!"
To look on Roland swooning there, Surpassed all sorrow he ever bare; He stretched his
hand, the horn he took, Through Roncesvalles thee flowed a brook, A draught to Roland he
thought to bring; But his steps were feeble and tottering, Spent his strength, from waste
of blood, He struggled on for scarce a rood, When sank his heart, and drooped his frame,
And his moral anguish on him came.
Roland revived from his swoon again; On his feet he rose, but in deadly pain; He looked
on high, and he looked below, Till, a space his other companions fro, He beheld the baron,
stretched on sward, The archbishop, vicar of God our Lord. Mea Culpa was Turpin's cry,
While he raised his hands to heaven on high, Imploring Paradise to gain. So died the
soldier of Carlemaine, With word or weapon, to preach or fight, A champion ever of
Christian right, And a deadly foe of the infidel. God's benediction within him dwell!
When Roland saw him stark on earth (His very vitals were bursting forth, And his brain
was oozing from out his head), He took the fair white hands outspread, Crossed and clasped
them upon his breast, And thus his plaint to the dead addressed, So did his country's law
ordain: "Ah, gentleman of noble strain, I trust thee unto God the True, Whose service
never man shall do With more devoted heart and mind: To guard the faith, to win mankind,
From the apostles' days till now, Such prophet never rose as thou. Nor pain or torment thy
soul await, But of Paradise the open gate."
The Death Of Roland
Roland feeleth his death is near, His brain is oozing by either ear. For his peers he
prayed - God keep them well; Invoked the angel Gabriel. That none reproach him, his horn
he clasped; His other hand Durindana grasped; Then, far as quarrel from crossbow sent,
Across the march of Spain he went, Where, on a mound, two trees between, Four flights of
marble steps were seen; Backward he fell, on the field to lie; And he swooned anon, for
the end was nigh.
High were the mountains and high the trees, Bright shone the marble terraces; On the
green grass Roland hath swooned away. A Saracen spied him where he lay: Stretched with the
rest he had feigned him dead, His face and body with blood bespread. To his feet he
sprang, and in haste he hied, He was fair and strong and of courage tried, In pride and
wrath he was overbold, And on Roland, body and arms, laid hold. "The nephew of Karl
is overthrown! To Araby bear I this sword, mine own." He stooped to grasp it, but as
he drew, Roland returned to his sense anew.
He saw the Saracen seize his sword; His eyes he oped, and he spake one word "Thou
art not one of our band, I trow," And he clutched the horn he would ne'er forego; On
the golden crest he smote him full, Shattering steel and bone and skull, Forth from his
head his eyes he beat, And cast him lifeless before his feet. "Miscreant, makest thou
then so free, As, right or wrong, to lay hold on me? Who hears it will deem thee a madman
born; Behold the mouth of mine ivory horn Broken for thee, and the gems and gold Around
its rim to earth are rolled."
Roland feeleth his eyesight reft, Yet he stands erect with what strength is left; From
his bloodless cheek is the hue dispelled, But his Durindana all bare he held. In front a
dark brown rock arose He smote upon it ten grievous blows. Grated the steel as it struck
the flint, Yet it brake not, nor bore its edge one dint. "Mary, Mother, be thou mine
aid! Ah, Durindana, my ill - starred blade, I may no longer thy guardian be! What fields
of battle I won with thee! What realms and regions 'twas ours to gain, Now the lordship of
Carlemaine! Never shalt thou possessor know Who would turn from face of mortal foe; A
gallant vassal so long thee bore, Such as France the free shall know no more."
He smote anew on the marble stair. It grated, but breach nor notch was there. When
Roland found that it would not break, Thus began he his plaint to make. "Ah,
Durindana, how fair and bright Thou sparklest, flaming against the light! When Karl in
Maurienne valley lay, God sent his angel from heaven to say 'This sword shall a valorous
captain's be,' And he girt it, the gentle king, on me. With it I vanquished Poitou and
Maine, Provence I conquered and Aquitaine; I conquered Normandy the free, Anjou, and the
marches of Brittany; Romagna I won, and Lombardy, Bavaria, Flanders from side to side, And
Burgundy, and Poland wide; Constantinople affiance vowed, And the Saxon soil to his
bidding bowed; Scotia, and Wales, and Ireland's plain, Of England made he his own domain.
What might, regions I won of old, For the hoary - headed Karl to hold! But there presses
on me a grievous pain, Lest thou in heathen hands remain. O God our Father, keep France
His strokes once more on the brown rock fell, And the steel was bent past words to
tell; Yet it brake not, nor was notched the grain, Erect it leaped to the sky again. When
he failed at the last to break his blade, His lamentation he inly made. "Oh, fair and
holy, my peerless sword, What relics lie in thy pommel stored! Tooth of Saint Peter, Saint
Basil's blood, Hair of Saint Denis beside them strewed, Fragment of holy Mary's vest.
'Twere shame that thou with the heathen rest; Thee should the hand of a Christian serve
One who would never in battle swerve. What regions won I with thee of yore, The empire now
of Karl the hoar! Rich and mighty is he therefore.'
That death was on him he knew full well; Down from his head to his heart it fell; On
the grass beneath a pine - tree's shade, With face to earth, his form he laid, Beneath him
placed he his horn and sword, And turned his face to the heathen horde. Thus hath he done
the sooth to show, That Karl and his warriors all may know, That the gentle count a
conqueror died. Mea Culpa full oft he cried; And, for all his sins, unto God above, In
sign of penance, he raised his glove.
Roland feeleth his hour at hand; On a knoll he lies towards the Spanish land. With one
hand beats he upon his breast: "In thy sight, O God, be my sins confessed. From my
hour of birth, both the great and small, Down to this day, I repent of all." As his
glove he raises to God on high, Angels of heaven descend him nigh.
Beneath a pine was his resting - place, To the land of Spain hath he turned his face,
On his memory rose full many a thought Of the lands he won and the fields he fought; Of
his gentle France, of his kin and line; Of his nursing father, King Karl benign; He may
not the tear and sob control, Nor yet forgets he his parting soul. To God's compassion he
makes his cry: "O Father true, who canst not lie, Who didst Lazarus raise unto life
agen, And Daniel shield in the lions' den; Shield my soul from its peril, due For the sins
I sinned my lifetime through." He did his right - hand glove uplift Saint Gabriel
took from his hand the gift; Then drooped his head upon his breast, And with clasped hands
he went to rest. God from on high sent down to him One of his angel Cherubim Saint Michael
of Peril of the sea, Saint Gabriel in company From heaven they came for that soul of
price, And they bore it with them to Paradise.
The Chastisement of the Saracens
Dead is Roland; his soul with God. While to Roncesvalles the Emperor rode, Where
neither path nor track he found, Nor open space nor rood of ground, But was strewn with
Frank or heathen slain, "Where art thou, Roland?" he cried in pain: "The
Archbishop where, and Olivier, Gerein and his brother in arms, Gerier? Count Otho where,
and Berengier, Ivon and Ivor, so dear to me; And Engelier of Gascony; Samson the duke, and
Anseis the bold; Gerard, of Roussillon, the old; My peers, the twelve whom I left
behind?" In vain! - No answer may he find. "O God," he cried, "what
grief is mine That I was not in front of this battle line!" For very wrath his beard
he tore, His knights and barons weeping sore; Aswoon full fifty thousand fall; Duke Naimes
hath pity and dole for all.
Nor knight nor baron was there to see But wept full fast, and bitterly; For son and
brother their tears descend, For lord and liege, for kin and friend; Aswoon all numberless
they fell, But Naimes did gallantly and well. He spake the first to the Emperor "Look
onward, sire, two leagues before, See the dust from the ways arise, There the strength of
the heathen lies. Ride on; avenge you for this dark day." "O God," said
Karl, "they are far away! Yet for right and honor, the sooth ye say. Fair France's
flower they have torn from me." To Otun and Gebouin beckoned he, To Tybalt of Rheims,
and Milo the count. "Guard the battle - field, vale, and mount Leave the dead as ye
see them lie; Watch, that nor lion nor beast come nigh, Nor on them varlet or squire lay
hand; None shall touch them, 'tis my command, Till with God's good grace we return
again." They answered lowly, in loving strain, "Great lord, fair sire, we will
do your hest," And a thousand warriors with them rest.
The Emperor bade his clarions ring, Marched with his host the noble king. They came at
last on the heathens' trace, And all together pursued in chase; But the king of the
falling eve was ware: He alighted down in a meadow fair, Knelt on the earth unto God to
pray That he make the sun in his course delay, Retard the night, and prolong the day. Then
his wonted angel who with him spake, Swiftly to Karl did answer make, "Ride on! Light
shall not thee forego; God seeth the flower of France laid low; Thy vengeance wreak on the
felon crew." The Emperor sprang to his steed anew.
God wrought for Karl a miracle: In his place in heaven the sun stood still. The
heathens fled, the Franks pursued, And in Val Tenebres beside them stood; Towards
Saragossa the rout they drave, And deadly were the strokes they gave. They barred against
them path and road; In front the water of Ebro flowed: Strong was the current, deep and
large, Was neither shallop, nor boat, nor barge. With a cry to their idol Termagaunt, The
heathens plunge, but with scanty vaunt. Encumbered with their armor's weight, Sank the
most to the bottom, straight; Others floated adown the stream; And the luckiest drank
their fill, I deem: All were in marvellous anguish drowned. Cry the Franks, "In
Roland your fate ye found."
As he sees the doom of the heathen host, Slain are some and drowned the most, (Great
spoil have won the Christian knights), The gentle king from his steed alights, And kneels,
his thanks unto God to pour: The sun had set as he rose once more. "It is time to
rest," the Emperor cried, "And to Roncesvalles 'twere late to ride. Our steeds
are weary and spent with pain; Strip them of saddle and bridle - rein, Free let them
browse on the verdant mead." "Sire," say the Franks, "it were well
The Emperor hath his quarters ta'en, And the Franks alight in the vacant plain; The
saddles from their steeds they strip, And the bridle - reins from their heads they slip;
They set them free on the green grass fair, Nor can they render them other care. On the
ground the weary warriors slept; Watch nor vigil that night they kept.
In the mead the Emperor made his bed, With his mighty spear beside his head, Nor will
he doff his arms to - night, But lies in his broidered hauberk white. Laced is his helm,
with gold inlaid, Girt on Joyeuse, the peerless blade, Which changes thirty times a day
The brightness of its varying ray. Nor may the lance unspoken be Which pierced our Saviour
on the tree; Karl hath its point - so God him graced Within his golden hilt enchased. And
for this honor and boon of heaven, The name Joyeuse to the sword was given; The Franks may
hold it in memory. Thence came "Montjoie," their battle - cry, And thence no
race with them may vie.
Clear was the night, and the fair moon shone, But grief weighed heavy King Karl upon;
He thought of Roland and Olivier, Of his Franks and every gallant peer, Whom he left to
perish in Roncesvale, Nor can he stint but to weep and wail, Imploring God their souls to
bless, 'Till, overcome with long distress, He slumbers at last for heaviness. The Franks
are sleeping throughout the meads; Nor rest on foot can the weary steeds They crop the
herb as they stretch them prone. Much hath he learned who hath sorrow known.
The Emperor slumbered like man forespent, While God his angle Gabriel sent The couch of
Carlemaine to guard. All night the angel kept watch and ward, And in a vision to Karl
presaged A coming battle against him waged. 'Twas shown in fearful augury; The king looked
upward to the sky There saw he lightning, and hail, and storm, Wind and tempest in fearful
form. A dread apparel of fire and flame, Down at once on his host they came. Their ashen
lances the flames enfold, and their bucklers in to the knobs of gold; Grated the steel of
helm and mail. Yet other perils the Franks assail, And his cavaliers are in deadly strait.
Bears and lions to rend them wait, Wiverns, snakes and fiends of fire, More than a
thousand griffins dire; Enfuried at the host they fly. "Help us, Karl!" was the
Franks' outcry, Ruth and sorrow the king beset; Fain would he aid, but was sternly let. A
lion came from the forest path, Proud and daring, and fierce in wrath; Forward sprang he
the king to grasp, And each seized other with deadly clasp; But who shall conquer or who
shall fall, None knoweth. Nor woke the king withal.
Another vision came him o'er: He was in France, his land, once more; In Aix, upon his
palace stair, And held in double chain a bear. When thirty more from Arden ran, Each spake
with voice of living man: "Release him, sire!" aloud they call; "Our
kinsman shall not rest in thrall. To succor him our arms are bound." Then from the
palace leaped a hound, On the mightiest of the bears he pressed, Upon the sward, before
the rest. The wondrous fight King Karl may see, But knows not who shall victor be. These
did the angel to Karl display; But the Emperor slept till dawning day.
At morning - tide when day - dawn broke, The Emperor from his slumber woke. His holy
guardian, Gabriel, With hand uplifted sained him well. The king aside his armor laid, And
his warriors all were disarrayed. Then mount they, and in haste they ride, Through
lengthening path and highway wide Until they see the doleful sight In Roncesvalles, the
field of fight.
Unto Roncesvalles King Karl hath sped, And his tears are falling above the dead;
"Ride, my barons, at gentle pace, I will go before, a little space, For my nephew's
sake, whom I fain would find. It was once in Aix, I recall to mind, When we met at the
yearly festal - tide, My cavaliers in vaunting vied Of stricken fields and joustings
proud, I heard my Roland declare aloud, In foreign land would he never fall But in front
of his peers and his warriors all, He would lie with head to the foeman's shore, And make
his end like a conqueror." Then far as man a staff might fling, Clomb to a rising
knoll the king.
As the king in quest of Roland speeds, The flowers and grass throughout the meads He
sees all red with our baron's blood, And his tears of pity break forth in flood. He upward
climbs, till, beneath two trees, The dints upon the rock he sees. Of Roland's corse he was
then aware; Stretched it lay on the green grass bare. No marvel sorrow the king oppressed;
He alighted down, and in haste he pressed, Took the body his arms between, And fainted:
dire his grief I ween.
As did reviving sense begin, Naimes, the duke, and Count Acelin, The noble Geoffrey of
Anjou, And his brother Henry nigh him drew. They made a pine - tree's trunk his stay; But
he looked to earth where his nephew lay, And thus all gently made his dole: "My
friend, my Roland, God guard thy soul! Never on earth such knight hath been, Fields of
battle to fight and win. My pride and glory, alas, are gone!" He endured no longer:
he swooned anon.
As Karl the king revived once more, His hands were held by barons four. He saw his
nephew, cold and wan; Stark his frame, but his hue was gone; His eyes turned inward, dark
and dim; And Karl in love lamented him: "Dear Roland, God thy spirit rest In
Paradise, amongst His blest! In evil hour thou soughtest Spain: No day shall dawn but sees
my pain, And me of strength and pride bereft. No champion of mine honor left; Without a
friend beneath the sky; And though my kindred still be nigh, Is none like thee their ranks
among." With both his hands his beard he wrung. The Franks bewailed in unison; A
hundred thousand wept like one.
"Dear Roland, I return again To Laon, to mine own domain; Where men will come from
many a land, And seek Count Roland at my hand. A bitter tale must I unfold 'In Spanish
earth he lieth cold,' A joyless realm henceforth I hold, And weep with daily tears untold.
"Dear Roland, beautiful and brave, All men of me will tidings crave, When I return
to La Chapelle. Oh, what a tale is mine to tell! That low my glorious nephew lies. Now
will the Saxon foeman rise; Bulgar and Hun in arms will come, Apulia's power, the might of
Rome, Palermitan and Afric bands, And men from fierce and distant lands. To sorrow, sorrow
must succeed; My hosts to battle who shall lead, When the mighty captain is overthrown?
Ah! France deserted now, and lone. Come, death, before such grief I bear." Once more
his beard and hoary hair Began he with his hands to tear; A hundred thousand fainted
"Dear Roland, and was this thy fate? May Paradise thy soul await. Who slew thee
wrought fair France's bane: I cannot live, so deep my pain. For me my kindred lie undone;
And would to Holy Mary's Son, Ere I at Cizra's gorge alight, My soul may take its parting
flight: My spirit would with theirs abide; My body rest their dust beside." With sobs
his hoary beard he tore. "Alas!" said Naimes, "for the Emperor."
"Sir Emperor," Geoffrey of Anjou said, "Be not by sorrow so sore misled.
Let us seek our comrades throughout the plain, Who fell by the hands of the men of Spain;
And let their bodies on biers be borne." "Yea," said the Emperor.
"Sound your horn."
Now doth Count Geoffrey his bugle sound, And the Franks from their steeds alight to
ground As they their dead companions find, They lay them low on biers reclined; Nor
prayers of bishop or abbot ceased, Of monk or canon, or tonsured priest. The dead they
blessed in God's great name, Set myrrh and frankincense aflame. Their incense to the dead
they gave, Then laid them, as beseemed the brave What could they more? - in honored grave.
But the king kept watch o'er Roland's bier O'er Turpin and Sir Olivier. He bade their
bodies opened be, Took the hearts of the barons three, Swathed them in silken cerements
light, Laid them in urns of the marble white. Their bodies did the Franks enfold In skins
of deer, around them rolled; Laved them with spices and with wine, Till the king to Milo
gave his sign, To Tybalt, Otun, and Gebouin; Their bodies three on biers they set, Each in
its silken coverlet.
To Saragossa did Marsil flee. He alighted beneath an olive tree, And sadly to his serfs
he gave His helm, his cuirass, and his glaive, Then flung him on the herbage green; Came
nigh him Bramimonde his queen. Shorn from his wrist was his right hand good; He swooned
for pain and waste of blood. The queen, in anguish, wept and cried, With twenty thousand
by her side. King Karl and gentle France they cursed; Then on their gods their anger
burst. Unto Apollin's crypt they ran, And with revilings thus began: "Ah, evil -
hearted god, to bring Such dark dishonor on our king. Thy servants ill dost thou
repay." His crown and wand they wrench away, They bind him to a pillar fast, And then
his form to earth they cast, His limbs with staves they bruise and break: From Termagaunt
his gem they take: Mohammed to a trench they bear, For dogs and boars to tread and tear.
Within his vaulted hall they bore King Marsil, when his swoon was o'er; The hall with
colored writings stained. And loud the queen in anguish plained, The while she tore her
streaming hair, "Ah, Saragossa, reft and bare, Thou seest thy noble king o'erthrown!
Such felony our gods have shown, Who failed in fight his aids to be. The Emir comes - a
dastard he, Unless he will that race essay, Who proudly fling their lives away. Their
Emperor of the hoary beard, In valor's desperation reared, Will never fly for mortal foe.
Till he be slain, how deep my woe!"1
[Footnote 1: Here intervenes the episode of the great battle fought between Charlemagne
and Baligant, Emir of Babylon, who had come with a mighty army, to the succor of King
Marsil, his vassal. This episode has been suspected of being a later interpolation. The
translation is resumed at the end of the battle, after the Emir had been slain by
Charlemagne's own hand, and when the Franks enter Saragossa in pursuit of the Saracens.]
Fierce is the heat and thick the dust. The Franks the flying Arabs thrust. To Saragossa
speeds their flight. The queen ascends a turret's height. The clerks and canons on her
wait, Of that false law God holds in hate. Order or tonsure have they none. And when she
thus beheld undone The Arab power, all disarrayed, Aloud she cried, "Mahound us aid!
My king! defeated is our race, The Emir slain in foul disgrace." King Marsil turns
him to the wall, And weeps - his visage darkened all. He dies for grief - in sin he dies,
His wretched soul the demon's prize.
Dead lay the heathens, or turned to flight, And Karl was victor in the fight. Down
Saragossa's wall he brake Defense he knew was none to make. And as the city law subdued,
The hoary king all proudly stood, There rested his victorious powers. The queen hath
yielded up the towers Ten great towers and fifty small. Well strives he whom God aids
Day passed; the shades of night drew on, And moon and stars refulgent shone. Now Karl
is Saragossa's lord, And a thousand Franks, by the king's award, Roam the city, to search
and see Where mosque or synagogue may be. With axe and mallet of steel in hand, They let
nor idol nor image stand; The shrines of sorcery down they hew, For Karl hath faith in God
the True, And will Him righteous service do. The bishops have the water blessed, The
heathen to the font are pressed. If any Karl's command gainsay, He has him hanged or
burned straightway. So a hundred thousand to Christ are won; But Bramimonde the queen
alone Shall unto France be captive brought, And in love be her conversion wrought.
Night passed, and came the daylight hours, Karl garrisoned the city's towers; He left a
thousand valiant knights, To sentinel their Emperor's rights. Then all his Franks ascend
their steeds, While Bramimonde in bonds he leads, To work her good his sole intent. And
so, in pride and strength, they went; They passed Narbonne in gallant show, And reached by
stately walls, Bordeaux. There, on Saint Severin's alter high, Karl placed Count Roland's
horn to lie, With mangons filled, and coins of gold, As pilgrims to this hour behold.
Across Garonne he bent his way, In ships within the stream that lay, And brought his
nephew unto Blaye, With his noble comrade, Olivier, And Turpin sage, the gallant peer. Of
the marble white their tombs were made; In Saint Roman's shrine are the baron's laid, Whom
the Franks to God and his saints commend. And Karl by hill and vale doth wend, Nor stays
till Aix is reached, and there Alighteth on his marble stair. When sits he in his palace
hall, He sends around to his judges all, From Frisia, Saxony, Loraine, From Burgundy and
Allemaine, From Normandy, Brittaine, Poitou: The realm of France he searches through, The
summons every sagest man. The plea of Ganelon then began.
From Spain the Emperor made retreat, To Aix in France, his kingly seat; And thither, to
his halls, there came, Alda, the fair and gentle dame. "Where is my Roland,
sire," she cried, "Who vowed to take me for his bride?" O'er Karl the flood
of sorrow swept; He tore his beard and loud he wept. "Dear sister, gentle
friend," he said, "Thou seekest one who lieth dead: I plight to thee my son
instead, Louis, who lord of my realm shall be." "Strange," she said,
"seems this to me. God and his angels forbid that I Should live on earth if Roland
die." Pale grew her cheek - she sank amain, Down at the feet of Carlemaine. So died
she. God receive her soul! The Franks bewail her in grief and dole.
So to her death went Alda fair. The king but deemed she fainted there. While dropped
his tears of pity warm, He took her hands and raised her form. Upon his shoulder drooped
her head, And Karl was ware that she was dead. When thus he saw that life was o'er, He
summoned noble ladies four. Within a cloister was she borne; They watched beside her until
morn; Beneath a shrine her limbs were laid; Such honor Karl to Alda paid.
The Emperor sitteth in Aix again, With Gan, the felon, in iron chain, The very palace
walls beside, By serfs unto a stake was tied. They bound his hands with leathern thong,
Beat him with staves and cordage strong; Nor hath he earned a better fee. And there in
pain awaits his plea.
'Tis written in the ancient geste, How Karl hath summoned east and west. At La Chapelle
assembled they; High was the feast and great the day Saint Sylvester's, the legend ran.
The plea and judgment then began Of Ganelon, who the treason wrought, Now face to face
with his Emperor brought.
"Lords, my barons," said Karl the king, "On Gan be righteous reckoning:
He followed in my host to Spain; Through him ten thousand Franks lie slain And slain was
he, my sister's son, Whom never more ye look upon, With Olivier the sage and bold, And all
my peers, betrayed for gold." "Shame befall me," said Gan, "if I Now
or ever the deed deny; Foully he wronged me in wealth and land, And I his death and ruin
planned: Therein, I say, was treason none." They said, "We will advise
Count Gan to the Emperor's presence came, Fresh of hue and lithe of frame, With a
baron's mien, were his heart but true. On his judges round his glance he threw, And on
thirty kinsmen by his side, And thus, with mighty voice, he cried: "Hear me, barons,
for love of God. In the Emperor's host was I abroad Well I served him, and loyally, But
his nephew, Roland, hated me: He doomed my doom of death and woe, That I to Marsil's court
should go. My craft the danger put aside, But Roland loudly I defied, With Olivier, and
all their crew, As Karl, and these his barons, knew. Vengeance, not treason, have I
wrought." "Thereon," they answered, "take we thought."
When Ganelon saw the plea begin, He mustered thirty of his kin, With one revered by all
the rest Pinabel of Sorrence's crest. Well can his tongue his cause unfold, And a vassal
brave his arms to hold. "Thine aid," said Ganelon, "I claim; To rescue me
from death and shame." Said Pinabel, "Rescued shalt thou be. Let any Frank thy
death decree, And, wheresoe'er the king deems meet, I will him body to body greet, Give
him the lie with my brand of steel." Ganelon sank at his feet to kneel.
Come Frank and Norman to council in, Bavarian, Saxon, and Poitevin, With all the barons
of Teuton blood; But the men of Auvergne are mild of mood Their hearts are swayed unto
Pinabel. Saith each to other, "Pause we well. Let us leave this plea, and the king
implore To set Count Ganelon free once more, Henceforth to serve him in love and faith:
Count Roland lieth cold in death: Not all the gold beneath the sky Can give him back to
mortal eye; Such battle would but madness be." They all applauded his decree, Save
Thierry - Geoffrey's brother he.
The barons came the king before. "Fair Sire, we all thy grace implore, That Gan be
suffered free to go, His faith and love henceforth to show. Oh, let him live - a noble he.
Your Roland you shall never see: No wealth of gold may him recall." Karl answered,
"Ye are felons all."
When Karl saw all forsake him now, Dark grew his face and drooped his brow. He said,
"Of men most wretched I!" Stepped forth Thierry speedily, Duke Geoffrey's
brother, a noble knight, Spare of body, and lithe and light, Dark his hair and his hue
withal, Nor low of stature, nor over tall: To Karl, in courteous wise, he said, "Fair
Sire, be not disheartened. I have served you truly, and, in the name Of my lineage, I this
quarrel claim. If Roland wronged Sir Gan in aught, Your service had his safeguard wrought.
Ganelon bore him like caitiff base, A perjured traitor before your face. I adjudge him to
die on the gallows tree; Flung to the hounds let his carcase be, The doom of treason and
felony. Let kin of his but say I lie, And with this girded sword will I My plighted word
in fight maintain." "Well spoken," cry the Franks amain.
Sir Pinabel stood before Karl in place, Vast of body and swift of pace, Small hope hath
he whom his sword may smite. "Sire, it is yours to decide the right. Bid this clamor
around to pause. Thierry hath dared to adjudge the cause; He lieth. Battle thereon I
do." And forth his right - hand glove he drew. But the Emperor said, "In bail to
me Shall thirty of his kinsmen be; I yield him pledges on my side: Be they guarded well
till the right be tried." When Thierry saw the fight shall be, To Karl his right
glove reacheth he; The Emperor gave his pledges o'er. And set in place were benches four
Thereon the champions take their seat, And all is ranged in order meet, The preparations
Ogier speeds, And both demand their arms and steeds.
But yet, ere lay they lance in rest, They make their shrift, are sained and blessed;
They hear the Mass, the Host receive, Great gifts to church and cloister leave. They stand
before the Emperor's face; The spurs upon their feet they lace; Gird on their corselets,
strong and light; Close on their heads the helmets bright. The golden hilts at belt are
hung; Their quartered shields from shoulder swung. In hand the mighty spears they lift,
Then spring they on their chargers swift. A hundred thousand cavaliers The while for
Thierry drop their tears; They pity him for Roland's sake. God knows what end the strife
At Aix is a wide and grassy plain, Where met in battle the baron's twain. Both of
valorous knighthood are, Their chargers swift and apt for war. They prick them hard with
slackened rein; Drive each at other with might and main. Their bucklers are in fragments
flung, Their hauberks rent, their girths unstrung; With saddles turned, they earthward
rolled. A hundred thousand in tears behold.
Both cavaliers to earth are gone, Both rise and leap on foot anon. Strong is Pinabel,
swift and light; Each striketh other, unhorsed they fight; With golden - hilted swords,
they deal Fiery strokes on the helms of steel. Trenchant and fierce is their every blow.
The Franks look on in wondrous woe. "O God," saith Karl, "Thy judgment
"Yield thee, Thierry," said Pinabel. "In love and faith will I serve
thee well, And all my wealth to thy feet will bring, Win Ganelon's pardon from the
king." "Never," Thierry in scorn replied, "Shall thought so base in
may bosom bide! God betwixt us this day decide."
"Ah, Pinabel!" so Thierry spake, "Thou art a baron of stalwart make, Thy
knighthood known to every peer, Come, let us cease this battle here. With Karl thy concord
shall be won, But on Ganelon be justice done; Of him henceforth let speech be none."
"No," said Pinabel; "God forefend! My kinsman I to the last defend; Nor
will I blench for mortal face, Far better death than such disgrace." Began they with
their glaves anew The gold - encrusted helms to hew; Towards heaven the fiery sparkles
flew. They shall not be disjoined again, Nor end the strife till one be slain.
Pinabel, lord of Sorrence's keep, Smote Thierry's helm with stroke so deep The very
fire that from it came Hath set the prairie round in flame; The edge of steel did his
forehead trace Adown the middle of his face; His hauberk to the centre clave. God deigned
Thierry from death to save.
When Thierry felt him wounded so, For his bright blood flowed on the grass below, He
smote on Pinabel's helmet brown, Cut and clave to the nasal down; Dashed his brains from
forth his head, And, with stroke of prowess, cast him dead. Thus, at a blow, was the
battle won: "God," say the Franks, "hath this marvel done."
When Thierry thus was conqueror, He came the Emperor Karl before. Full fifty barons
were in his train, Duke Naimes, and Ogier the noble Dane, Geoffrey of Anjou and William of
Blaye. Karl clasped him in his arms straightway With skin of sable he wiped his face; Then
cast it from him, and, in its place, Bade him in fresh attire be drest. His armor gently
the knights divest; On an Arab mule they make him ride: So returns he, in joy and pride.
To the open plain of Aix they come, Where the kin of Ganelon wait their doom.
Karl his dukes and his counts addressed: "Say, what of those who in bondage rest
Who came Count Ganelon's plea to aid, And for Pinabel were bailsmen made?" "One
and all let them die the death." And the king to Basbrun, his provost, saith,
"Go, hang them all on the gallows tree. By my beard I swear, so white to see, If one
escape, thou shalt surely die." "Mine be the task," he made reply. A
hundred men - at - arms are there: The thirty to their doom they bear. The traitor shall
his guilt atone, With blood of others and his own.
The men of Bavaria and Allemaine, Norman and Breton return again, And with all the
Franks aloud they cry, That Gan a traitor's death shall die. They bade be brought four
stallions fleet; Bound to them Ganelon, hands and feet: Wild and swift was each savage
steed, And a mare was standing within the mead; Four grooms impelled the coursers on, A
fearful ending for Ganelon. His every nerve was stretched and torn, And the limbs of his
body apart were borne; The bright blood, springing from every vein, Left on the herbage
green its stain. He died a felon and recreant: Never shall traitor his treason vaunt.
Now was the Emperor's vengeance done, And he called to the bishops of France anon With
those of Bavaria and Allemaine. "A noble captive is in my train. She hath hearkened
to sermon and homily, And a true believer in Christ will be; Baptize her so that her soul
have grace." They say, "Let ladies of noble race, At her christening, be her
sponsors vowed." And so there gathered a mighty crowd. At the baths of Aix was the
wondrous scene There baptized they the Spanish queen; Julienne they have named her name.
In faith and truth unto Christ she came.
When the Emperor's justice was satisfied, His mighty wrath did awhile subside. Queen
Bramimonde was a Christian made, The day passed on into night's dark shade; As the king in
his vaulted chamber lay, Saint Gabriel came from God to say, "Karl, thou shalt summon
thine empire's host And march in haste to Bira's coast; Unto Impha city relief to bring,
And succor Vivian, the Christian king. The heathens in siege have the town essayed, And
the shattered Christians invoke thine aid." Fain would Karl such task decline.
"God! what a life of toil is mine!" He wept; his hoary beard he wrung.
So ends the lay Turoldus sung.
The Song of Roland tr. by John O'Hagan
Epic and Saga. New York, P. F. Collier & son [c1910]
Series: Harvard classics ; no.XLIX.
This text is part of the Internet
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