Song of Roland

Laisses 187-214


King Marsilies, fleeing to Sarraguce,

Dismounted there beneath an olive cool;

His sword and sark and helm aside he put,

On the green grass lay down in shame and gloom;

For his right hand he'd lost, 'twas clean cut through;

Such blood he'd shed, in anguish keen he swooned.

Before his face his lady Bramimunde

Bewailed and cried, with very bitter rue;

Twenty thousand and more around him stood,

All of them cursed Carlun and France the Douce.

Then Apollin in's grotto they surround,

And threaten him, and ugly words pronounce:

"Such shame on us, vile god!, why bringest thou?

This is our king; wherefore dost him confound?

Who served thee oft, ill recompense hath found."

Then they take off his sceptre and his crown,

With their hands hang him from a column down,

Among their feet trample him on the ground,

With great cudgels they batter him and trounce.

From Tervagant his carbuncle they impound,

And Mahumet into a ditch fling out,

Where swine and dogs defile him and devour.


Out of his swoon awakens Marsilies,

And has him borne his vaulted roof beneath;

Many colours were painted there to see,

And Bramimunde laments for him, the queen,

Tearing her hair; caitiff herself she clepes;

Also these words cries very loud and clear:

"Ah! Sarraguce, henceforth forlorn thou'lt be

Of the fair king that had thee in his keep!

All those our gods have wrought great felony,

Who in battle this morning failed at need.

That admiral will shew his cowardice,

Unless he fight against that race hardy,

Who are so fierce, for life they take no heed.

That Emperour, with his blossoming beard,

Hath vassalage, and very high folly;

Battle to fight, he will not ever flee.

Great grief it is, no man may slay him clean."


That Emperour, by his great Majesty,

I Full seven years in Spain now has he been,

And castles there, and many cities seized.

King Marsilies was therefore sore displeased;

In the first year he sealed and sent his brief

To Baligant, into Babilonie:

('Twas the admiral, old in antiquity,

That clean outlived Omer and Virgilie,)

To Sarraguce, with succour bade him speed,

For, if he failed, Marsile his gods would leave,

All his idols he worshipped formerly;

He would receive blest Christianity

And reconciled to Charlemagne would be.

Long time that one came not, far off was he.

Through forty realms he did his tribes rally;

His great dromonds, he made them all ready,

Barges and skiffs and ships and galleries;

Neath Alexandre, a haven next the sea,

In readiness he gat his whole navy.

That was in May, first summer of the year,

All of his hosts he launched upon the sea.


Great are the hosts of that opposed race;

With speed they sail, they steer and navigate.

High on their yards, at their mast-heads they place

Lanterns enough, and carbuncles so great

Thence, from above, such light they dissipate

The sea's more clear at midnight than by day.

And when they come into the land of Spain

All that country lightens and shines again:

Of their coming Marsile has heard the tale.



The pagan race would never rest, but come

Out of the sea, where the sweet waters run;

They leave Marbris, they leave behind Marbrus,

Upstream by Sebre doth all their navy turn.

Lanterns they have, and carbuncles enough,

That all night long and very clearly burn.

Upon that day they come to Sarragus.



Clear is that day, and the sun radiant.

Out of his barge issues their admiral,

Espaneliz goes forth at his right hand,

Seventeen kings follow him in a band,

Counts too, and dukes; I cannot tell of that.

Where in a field, midway, a laurel stands,

On the green grass they spread a white silk mat,

Set a fald-stool there, made of olifant;

Sits him thereon the pagan Baligant,

And all the rest in rows about him stand.

The lord of them speaks before any man:

"Listen to me, free knights and valiant!

Charles the King, the Emperour of the Franks,

Shall not eat bread, save when that I command.

Throughout all Spain great war with me he's had;

I will go seek him now, into Douce France,

I will not cease, while I'm a living man,

Till be slain, or fall between my hands."

Upon his knee his right-hand glove he slaps.


He is fast bound by all that he has said.

He will not fail, for all the gold neath heav'n,

But go to Aix, where Charles court is held:

His men applaud, for so they counselled.

After he called two of his chevaliers,

One Clarifan, and the other Clarien:

"You are the sons of king Maltraien,

Freely was, wont my messages to bear.

You I command to Sarraguce to fare.

Marsiliun on my part you shall tell

Against the Franks I'm come to give him help,

Find I their host, great battle shall be there;

Give him this glove, that's stitched with golden thread,

On his right hand let it be worn and held;

This little wand of fine gold take as well,

Bid him come here, his homage to declare.

To France I'll go, and war with Charles again;

Save at my feet he kneel, and mercy beg,

Save all the laws of Christians he forget,

I'll take away the crown from off his head."

Answer pagans: "Sire, you say very well."


Said Baligant: "But canter now, barons,

Take one the wand, and the other one the glove!"

These answer him: "Dear lord, it shall be done."

Canter so far, to Sarraguce they come,

Pass through ten gates, across four bridges run,

Through all the streets, wherein the burghers crowd.

When they draw nigh the citadel above,

From the palace they hear a mighty sound;

About that place are seen pagans enough,

Who weep and cry, with grief are waxen wood,

And curse their gods, Tervagan and Mahum

And Apolin, from whom no help is come.

Says each to each: "Caitiffs! What shall be done?

For upon us confusion vile is come,

Now have we lost our king Marsiliun,

For yesterday his hand count Rollanz cut;

We'll have no more Fair Jursaleu, his son;

The whole of Spain henceforward is undone."

Both messengers on the terrace dismount.


Horses they leave under an olive tree,

Which by the reins two Sarrazins do lead;

Those messengers have wrapped them in their weeds,

To the palace they climb the topmost steep.

When they're come in, the vaulted roof beneath,

Marsilium with courtesy they greet:

"May Mahumet, who all of us doth keep,

And Tervagan, and our lord Apoline

Preserve the, king and guard from harm the queen!"

Says Bramimunde "Great foolishness I hear:

Those gods of ours in cowardice are steeped;

In Rencesvals they wrought an evil deed,

Our chevaliers they let be slain in heaps;

My lord they failed in battle, in his need,

Never again will he his right hand see;

For that rich count, Rollanz, hath made him bleed.

All our whole Spain shall be for Charles to keep.

Miserable! What shall become of me?

Alas! That I've no man to slay me clean!"



Says Clarien: "My lady, say not that!

We're messengers from pagan Baligant;

To Marsilies, he says, he'll be warrant,

So sends him here his glove, also this wand.

Vessels we have, are moored by Sebres bank,

Barges and skiffs and gallies four thousand,

Dromonds are there -- I cannot speak of that.

Our admiral is wealthy and puissant.

And Charlemagne he will go seek through France

And quittance give him, dead or recreant."

Says Bramimunde: "Unlucky journey, that!

Far nearer here you'll light upon the Franks;

For seven years he's stayed now in this land.

That Emperour is bold and combatant,

Rather he'ld die than from the field draw back;

No king neath heav'n above a child he ranks.

Charles hath no fear for any living man.


Says Marsilies the king: "Now let that be."

To th'messengers: "Sirs, pray you, speak to me.

I am held fast by death, as ye may see.

No son have I nor daughter to succeed;

That one I had, they slew him yester-eve.

Bid you my lord, he come to see me here.

Rights over Spain that admiral hath he,

My claim to him, if he will take't, I yield;

But from the Franks he then must set her free.

Gainst Charlemagne I'll shew him strategy.

Within a month from now he'll conquered be.

Of Sarraguce ye'll carry him the keys,

He'll go not hence, say, if he trusts in me."

They answer him: "Sir, 'tis the truth you speak."



Then says Marsile: "The Emperour, Charles the Great

Hath slain my men and all my land laid waste,

My cities are broken and violate;

He lay this night upon the river Sebre;

I've counted well, 'tis seven leagues away.

Bid the admiral, leading his host this way,

Do battle here; this word to him convey."

Gives them the keys of Sarraguce her gates;

Both messengers their leave of him do take,

Upon that word bow down, and turn away.


Both messengers did on their horses mount;

From that city nimbly they issued out.

Then, sore afraid, their admiral they sought,

To whom the keys of Sarraguce they brought.

Says Baligant: "Speak now; what have ye found?

Where's Marsilies, to come to me was bound?"

Says Clarien : "To death he's stricken down.

That Emperour was in the pass but now;

To France the Douce he would be homeward-bound,

Rereward he set, to save his great honour:

His nephew there installed, Rollanz the count,

And Oliver; the dozen peers around;

A thousand score of Franks in armour found.

Marsile the king fought with them there, so proud;

He and Rollanz upon that field did joust.

With Durendal he dealt him such a clout

From his body he cut the right hand down.

His son is dead, in whom his heart was bound,

And the barons that service to him vowed;

Fleeing he came, he could no more hold out.

That Emperour has chased him well enow.

The king implores, you'll hasten with succour,

Yields to you Spain, his kingdom and his crown."

And Baligant begins to think, and frowns;

Such grief he has, doth nearly him confound.



"Sir admiral," said to him Clariens,

"In Rencesvals was yesterday battle.

Dead is Rollanz and that count Oliver,

The dozen peers whom Charle so cherished,

And of their Franks are twenty thousand dead.

King Marsilie's of his right hand bereft,

And the Emperour chased him enow from thence.

Throughout this land no chevalier is left,

But he be slain, or drowned in Sebres bed.

By river side the Franks have pitched their tents,

Into this land so near to us they've crept;

But, if you will, grief shall go with them hence."

And Baligant looked on him proudly then,

In his courage grew joyous and content;

From the fald-stool upon his feet he leapt,

Then cried aloud: "Barons, too long ye've slept;

Forth from your ships issue, mount, canter well!

If he flee not, that Charlemagne the eld,

King Marsilies shall somehow be avenged;

For his right hand I'll pay him back an head."


Pagan Arabs out of their ships issue,

Then mount upon their horses and their mules,

And canter forth, (nay, what more might they do?)

Their admiral, by whom they all were ruled,

Called up to him Gemalfin, whom he knew:

"I give command of all my hosts to you."

On a brown horse mounted, as he was used,

And in his train he took with him four dukes.

Cantered so far, he came to Sarraguce.

Dismounted on a floor of marble blue,

Where four counts were, who by his stirrup stood;

Up by the steps, the palace came into;

To meet him there came running Bramimunde,

Who said to him: "Accursed from the womb,

That in such shame my sovran lord I lose!

Fell at his feet, that admiral her took.

In grief they came up into Marsile's room.



King Marsilies, when he sees Baligant,

Calls to him then two Spanish Sarazands:

"Take me by the arms, and so lift up my back."

One of his gloves he takes in his left hand;

Then says Marsile: "Sire, king and admiral,

Quittance I give you here of all my land,

With Sarraguce, and the honour thereto hangs.

Myself I've lost; my army, every man."

He answers him: "Therefore the more I'm sad.

No long discourse together may we have;

Full well I know, Charles waits not our attack,

I take the glove from you, in spite of that."

He turned away in tears, such grief he had.

Down by the steps, out of the palace ran,

Mounted his horse, to's people gallopped back.

Cantered so far, he came before his band;

From hour to hour then, as he went, he sang:

"Pagans, come on: already flee the Franks!"



In morning time, when the dawn breaks at last,

Awakened is that Emperour Charles.

Saint Gabriel, who on God's part him guards,

Raises his hand, the Sign upon him marks.

Rises the King, his arms aside he's cast,

The others then, through all the host, disarm.

After they mount, by virtue canter fast

Through those long ways, and through those roads so large;

They go to see the marvellous damage

In Rencesvals, there where the battle was.



In Rencesvals is Charles entered,

Begins to weep for those he finds there dead;

Says to the Franks: "My lords, restrain your steps,

Since I myself alone should go ahead,

For my nephew, whom I would find again.

At Aix I was, upon the feast Noel,

Vaunted them there my valiant chevaliers,

Of battles great and very hot contests;

With reason thus I heard Rollant speak then:

He would not die in any foreign realm

Ere he'd surpassed his peers and all his men.

To the foes' land he would have turned his head,

Conqueringly his gallant life he'ld end."

Further than one a little wand could send,

Before the rest he's on a peak mounted.


When the Emperour went seeking his nephew,

He found the grass, and every flower that bloomed,

Turned scarlat, with our barons' blood imbrued;

Pity he felt, he could but weep for rue.

Beneath two trees he climbed the hill and looked,

And Rollant's strokes on three terraces knew,

On the green grass saw lying his nephew;

`Tis nothing strange that Charles anger grew.

Dismounted then, and went -- his heart was full,

In his two hands the count's body he took;

With anguish keen he fell on him and swooned.


That Emperour is from his swoon revived.

Naimes the Duke, and the count Aceline,

Gefrei d'Anjou and his brother Tierry,

Take up the King, bear him beneath a pine.

There on the ground he sees his nephew lie.

Most sweetly then begins he to repine:

"Rollant, my friend, may God to thee be kind!

Never beheld any man such a knight

So to engage and so to end a fight.

Now my honour is turned into decline!"

Charle swoons again, he cannot stand upright.



Charles the King returned out of his swoon.

Him in their hands four of his barons took,

He looked to the earth, saw lying his nephew;

All colourless his lusty body grew,

He turned his eyes, were very shadowful.

Charles complained in amity and truth:

"Rollant, my friend, God lay thee mid the blooms

Of Paradise, among the glorious!

Thou cam'st to Spain in evil tide, seigneur!

Day shall not dawn, for thee I've no dolour.

How perishes my strength and my valour!

None shall I have now to sustain my honour;

I think I've not one friend neath heaven's roof,

Kinsmen I have, but none of them's so proof."

He tore his locks, till both his hands were full.

Five score thousand Franks had such great dolour

There was not one but sorely wept for rue.



"Rollant, my friend, to France I will away;

When at Loum, I'm in my hall again,

Strange men will come from many far domains,

Who'll ask me, where's that count, the Capitain;

I'll say to them that he is dead in Spain.

In bitter grief henceforward shall I reign,

Day shall not dawn, I weep not nor complain.


"Rollant, my friend, fair youth that bar'st the bell,

When I arrive at Aix, in my Chapelle,

Men coming there will ask what news I tell;

I'll say to them: `Marvellous news and fell.

My nephew's dead, who won for me such realms!'

Against me then the Saxon will rebel,

Hungar, Bulgar, and many hostile men,

Romain, Puillain, all those are in Palerne,

And in Affrike, and those in Califerne;

Afresh then will my pain and suffrance swell.

For who will lead my armies with such strength,

When he is slain, that all our days us led?

Ah! France the Douce, now art thou deserted!

Such grief I have that I would fain be dead."

All his white beard he hath begun to rend,

Tore with both hands the hair out of his head.

Five score thousand Franks swooned on the earth and fell.


"Rollant, my friend, God shew thee His mercy!

In Paradise repose the soul of thee!

Who hath thee slain, exile for France decreed.

I'ld live no more, so bitter is my grief

For my household, who have been slain for me.

God grant me this, the Son of Saint Mary,

Ere I am come to th' master-pass of Size,

From my body my soul at length go free!

Among their souls let mine in glory be,

And let my flesh upon their flesh be heaped."

Still his white beard he tears, and his eyes weep.

Duke Naimes says: "His wrath is great indeed."



"Sire, Emperour," Gefrei d'Anjou implored,

"Let not your grief to such excess be wrought;

Bid that our men through all this field be sought,

Whom those of Spain have in the battle caught;

In a charnel command that they be borne."

Answered the King: "Sound then upon your horn."



Gefreid d'Anjou upon his trumpet sounds;

As Charles bade them, all the Franks dismount.

All of their friends, whose bodies they have found

To a charnel speedily the bring down.

Bishops there are, and abbots there enow,

Canons and monks, vicars with shaven crowns;

Absolution in God's name they've pronounced;

Incense and myrrh with precious gums they've ground,

And lustily they've swung the censers round;

With honour great they've laid them in the ground.

They've left them there; what else might they do now?



That Emperour sets Rollant on one side

And Oliver, and the Archbishop Turpine;

Their bodies bids open before his eyes.

And all their hearts in silken veils to wind,

And set them in coffers of marble white;

After, they take the bodies of those knights,

Each of the three is wrapped in a deer's hide;

They're washen well in allspice and in wine.

The King commands Tedbalt and Gebuin,

Marquis Otun, Milun the count besides:

Along the road in three wagons to drive.

They're covered well with carpets Galazine.



Now to be off would that Emperour Charles,

When pagans, lo! comes surging the vanguard;

Two messengers come from their ranks forward,

From the admiral bring challenge to combat:

"'Tis not yet time, proud King, that thou de-part.

Lo, Baligant comes cantering afterward,

Great are the hosts he leads from Arab parts;

This day we'll see if thou hast vassalage."

Charles the King his snowy beard has clasped,

Remembering his sorrow and damage,

Haughtily then his people all regards,

In a loud voice he cries with all his heart:

"Barons and Franks, to horse, I say, to arms!"