Song of Roland

Laisses 177-186


Rollant is dead; his soul to heav'n God bare.

That Emperour to Rencesvals doth fare.

There was no path nor passage anywhere

Nor of waste ground no ell nor foot to spare

Without a Frank or pagan lying there.

Charles cries aloud: "Where are you, nephew fair?

Where's the Archbishop and that count Oliviers?

Where is Gerins and his comrade Gerers?

Otes the Duke, and the count Berengiers

And Ivorie, and Ive, so dear they were?

What is become of Gascon Engelier,

Sansun the Duke and Anseis the fierce?

Where's old Gerard of Russillun; oh, where

The dozen peers I left behind me here?"

But what avail, since none can answer bear?

"God!" says the King, "Now well may I despair,

I was not here the first assault to share!"

Seeming enraged, his beard the King doth tear.

Weep from their eyes barons and chevaliers,

A thousand score, they swoon upon the earth;

Duke Neimes for them was moved with pity rare.


No chevalier nor baron is there, who

Pitifully weeps not for grief and dule;

They mourn their sons, their brothers, their nephews,

And their liege lords, and trusty friends and true;

Upon the ground a many of them swoon.

Thereon Duke Neimes doth act with wisdom proof,

First before all he's said to the Emperour:

"See beforehand, a league from us or two,

From the highways dust rising in our view;

Pagans are there, and many them, too.

Canter therefore! Vengeance upon them do!"

"Ah, God!" says Charles, "so far are they re-moved!

Do right by me, my honour still renew!

They've torn from me the flower of France the Douce."

The King commands Gebuin and Otun,

Tedbalt of Reims, also the count Milun:

"Guard me this field, these hills and valleys too,

Let the dead lie, all as they are, unmoved,

Let not approach lion, nor any brute,

Let not approach esquire, nor any groom;

For I forbid that any come thereto,

Until God will that we return anew."

These answer him sweetly, their love to prove:

"Right Emperour, dear Sire, so will we do."

A thousand knights they keep in retinue.



That Emperour bids trumpets sound again,

Then canters forth with his great host so brave.

Of Spanish men, whose backs are turned their way,

Franks one and all continue in their chase.

When the King sees the light at even fade,

On the green grass dismounting as he may,

He kneels aground, to God the Lord doth pray

That the sun's course He will for him delay,

Put off the night, and still prolong the day.

An angel then, with him should reason make,

Nimbly enough appeared to him and spake:

"Charles, canter on! Light needst not thou await.

The flower of France, as God knows well, is slain;

Thou canst be avenged upon that crimeful race."

Upon that word mounts the Emperour again.



For Charlemagne a great marvel God planned:

Making the sun still in his course to stand.

So pagans fled, and chased them well the Franks

Through the Valley of Shadows, close in hand;

Towards Sarraguce by force they chased them back,

And as they went with killing blows attacked:

Barred their highways and every path they had.

The River Sebre before them reared its bank,

'Twas very deep, marvellous current ran;

No barge thereon nor dromond nor caland.

A god of theirs invoked they, Tervagant.

And then leaped in, but there no warrant had.

The armed men more weighty were for that,

Many of them down to the bottom sank,

Downstream the rest floated as they might hap;

So much water the luckiest of them drank,

That all were drowned, with marvellous keen pangs.

"An evil day," cry Franks, "ye saw Rollant!"


When Charles sees that pagans all are dead,

Some of them slain, the greater part drowned;

(Whereby great spoils his chevaliers collect)

That gentle King upon his feet descends,

Kneels on the ground, his thanks to God presents.

When he once more rise, the sun is set.

Says the Emperour "Time is to pitch our tents;

To Rencesvals too late to go again.

Our horses are worn out and foundered:

Unsaddle them, take bridles from their heads,

And through these meads let them refreshment get."

Answer the Franks: "Sire, you have spoken well."



That Emperour hath chosen his bivouac;

The Franks dismount in those deserted tracts,

Their saddles take from off their horses' backs,

Bridles of gold from off their heads unstrap,

Let them go free; there is enough fresh grass --

No service can they render them, save that.

Who is most tired sleeps on the ground stretched flat.

Upon this night no sentinels keep watch.


That Emperour is lying in a mead;

By's head, so brave, he's placed his mighty spear;

On such a night unarmed he will not be.

He's donned his white hauberk, with broidery,

Has laced his helm, jewelled with golden beads,

Girt on Joiuse, there never was its peer,

Whereon each day thirty fresh hues appear.

All of us know that lance, and well may speak

Whereby Our Lord was wounded on the Tree:

Charles, by God's grace, possessed its point of steel!

His golden hilt he enshrined it underneath.

By that honour and by that sanctity

The name Joiuse was for that sword decreed.

Barons of France may not forgetful be

Whence comes the ensign "Monjoie," they cry at need;

Wherefore no race against them can succeed.


Clear was the night, the moon shone radiant.

Charles laid him down, but sorrow for Rollant

And Oliver, most heavy on him he had,

For's dozen peers, for all the Frankish band

He had left dead in bloody Rencesvals;

He could not help, but wept and waxed mad,

And prayed to God to be their souls' Warrant.

Weary that King, or grief he's very sad;

He falls on sleep, he can no more withstand.

Through all those meads they slumber then, the Franks;

Is not a horse can any longer stand,

Who would eat grass, he takes it lying flat.

He has learned much, can understand their pangs.


Charles, like a man worn out with labour, slept.

Saint Gabriel the Lord to him hath sent,

Whom as a guard o'er the Emperour he set;

Stood all night long that angel by his head.

In a vision announced he to him then

A battle, should be fought against him yet,

Significance of griefs demonstrated.

Charles looked up towards the sky, and there

Thunders and winds and blowing gales beheld,

And hurricanes and marvellous tempests;

Lightnings and flames he saw in readiness,

That speedily on all his people fell;

Apple and ash, their spear-shafts all burned,

Also their shields, e'en the golden bosses,

Crumbled the shafts of their trenchant lances,

Crushed their hauberks and all their steel helmets.

His chevaliers he saw in great distress.

Bears and leopards would feed upon them next;

Adversaries, dragons, wyverns, serpents,

Griffins were there, thirty thousand, no less,

Nor was there one but on some Frank it set.

And the Franks cried: "Ah! Charlemagne, give help!"

Wherefore the King much grief and pity felt,

He'ld go to them but was in duress kept:

Out of a wood came a great lion then,

'Twas very proud and fierce and terrible;

His body dear sought out, and on him leapt,

Each in his arms, wrestling, the other held;

But he knew not which conquered, nor which fell.

That Emperour woke not at all, but slept.


And, after that, another vision came:

Himseemed in France, at Aix, on a terrace,

And that he held a bruin by two chains;

Out of Ardenne saw thirty bears that came,

And each of them words, as a man might, spake

Said to him: "Sire, give him to us again!

It is not right that he with you remain,

He's of our kin, and we must lend him aid."

A harrier fair ran out of his palace,

Among them all the greatest bear assailed

On the green grass, beyond his friends some way.

There saw the King marvellous give and take;

But he knew not which fell, nor which o'ercame.

The angel of God so much to him made plain.

Charles slept on till the clear dawn of day.