Song of Roland

Laisses 39-87


"Fair Master Guenes," says then King Marsilie,

"I did you now a little trickery,

Making to strike, I shewed my great fury.

These sable skins take as amends from me,

Five hundred pounds would not their worth redeem.

To-morrow night the gift shall ready be."

Guene answers him: "I'll not refuse it, me.

May God be pleased to shew you His mercy."



Then says Marsile "Guenes, the truth to ken,

Minded I am to love you very well.

Of Charlemagne I wish to hear you tell,

He's very old, his time is nearly spent,

Two hundred years he's lived now, as 'tis said.

Through many lands his armies he has led,

So many blows his buckled shield has shed,

And so rich kings he's brought to beg their bread;

What time from war will he draw back instead?"

And answers Guenes: "Not so was Charles bred.

There is no man that sees and knows him well

But will proclaim the Emperour's hardihead.

Praise him as best I may, when all is said,

Remain untold, honour and goodness yet.

His great valour how can it be counted?

Him with such grace hath God illumined,

Better to die than leave his banneret."


The pagan says: "You make me marvel sore

At Charlemagne, who is so old and hoar;

Two hundred years, they say, he's lived and more.

So many lands he's led his armies o'er,

So many blows from spears and lances borne,

And so rich kings brought down to beg and sorn,

When will time come that he draws back from war?"

"Never," says Guenes, "so long as lives his nephew;

No such vassal goes neath the dome of heaven;

And proof also is Oliver his henchman;

The dozen peers, whom Charl'es holds so precious,

These are his guards, with other thousands twenty.

Charles is secure, he holds no man in terror."



Says Sarrazin: "My wonder yet is grand

At Charlemagne, who hoary is and blanched.

Two hundred years and more, I understand,

He has gone forth and conquered many a land,

Such blows hath borne from many a trenchant lance,

Vanquished and slain of kings so rich a band,

When will time come that he from war draws back?"

"Never," says Guene, "so long as lives Rollanz,

From hence to the East there is no such vassal;

And proof also, Oliver his comrade;

The dozen peers he cherishes at hand,

These are his guard, with twenty thousand Franks.

Charles is secure, he fears no living man."



"Fair Master Guenes," says Marsilies the King,

"Such men are mine, fairer than tongue can sing,

Of knights I can four hundred thousand bring

So I may fight with Franks and with their King."

Answers him Guenes: "Not on this journeying

Save of pagans a great loss suffering.

Leave you the fools, wise counsel following;

To the Emperour such wealth of treasure give

That every Frank at once is marvelling.

For twenty men that you shall now send in

To France the Douce he will repair, that King;

In the rereward will follow after him

Both his nephew, count Rollant, as I think,

And Oliver, that courteous paladin;

Dead are the counts, believe me if you will.

Charles will behold his great pride perishing,

For battle then he'll have no more the skill.



Fair Master Guene," says then King Marsilie,

"Shew the device, how Rollant slain may be."

Answers him Guenes: "That will I soon make clear

The King will cross by the good pass of Size,

A guard he'll set behind him, in the rear;

His nephew there, count Rollant, that rich peer,

And Oliver, in whom he well believes;

Twenty thousand Franks in their company

Five score thousand pagans upon them lead,

Franks unawares in battle you shall meet,

Bruised and bled white the race of Franks shall be;

I do not say, but yours shall also bleed.

Battle again deliver, and with speed.

So, first or last, from Rollant you'll be freed.

You will have wrought a high chivalrous deed,

Nor all your life know war again, but peace.



"Could one achieve that Rollant's life was lost,

Charle's right arm were from his body torn;

Though there remained his marvellous great host,

He'ld not again assemble in such force;

Terra Major would languish in repose."

Marsile has heard, he's kissed him on the throat;

Next he begins to undo his treasure-store.



Said Marsilie -- but now what more said they? --

"No faith in words by oath unbound I lay;

Swear me the death of Rollant on that day."

Then answered Guene: "So be it, as you say."

On the relics, are in his sword Murgles,

Treason he's sworn, forsworn his faith away.



Was a fald-stool there, made of olifant.

A book thereon Marsilies bade them plant,

In it their laws, Mahum's and Tervagant's.

He's sworn thereby, the Spanish Sarazand,

In the rereward if he shall find Rollant,

Battle to himself and all his band,

And verily he'll slay him if he can.

And answered Guenes: "So be it, as you command!"



In haste there came a pagan Valdabrun,

Warden had been to King Marsiliun,

Smiling and clear, he's said to Guenelun,

"Take now this sword, and better sword has none;

Into the hilt a thousand coins are run.

To you, fair sir, I offer it in love;

Give us your aid from Rollant the barun,

That in rereward against him we may come."

Guenes the count answers: "It shall-be done."

Then, cheek and chin, kissed each the other one.


After there came a pagan, Climorins,

Smiling and clear to Guenelun begins:

"Take now my helm, better is none than this;

But give us aid, on Rollant the marquis,

By what device we may dishonour bring."

"It shall be done." Count Guenes answered him;

On mouth and cheek then each the other kissed.



In haste there came the Queen forth, Bramimound;

"I love you well, sir," said she to the count,

"For prize you dear my lord and all around;

Here for your wife I have two brooches found,

Amethysts and jacynths in golden mount;

More worth are they than all the wealth of Roum;

Your Emperour has none such, I'll be bound."

He's taken them, and in his hosen pouched.



The King now calls Malduiz, that guards his treasure.

"Tribute for Charles, say, is it now made ready?"

He answers him: "Ay, Sire, for here is plenty

Silver and gold on hundred camels seven,

And twenty men, the gentlest under heaven."



Marsilie's arm Guene's shoulder doth enfold;

He's said to him: "You are both wise and bold.

Now, by the law that you most sacred hold,

Let not your heart in our behalf grow cold!

Out of my store I'll give you wealth untold,

Charging ten mules with fine Arabian gold;

I'll do the same for you, new year and old.

Take then the keys of this city so large,

This great tribute present you first to Charles,

Then get me placed Rollanz in the rereward.

If him I find in valley or in pass,

Battle I'll give him that shall be the last."

Answers him Guenes: "My time is nearly past."

His charger mounts, and on his journey starts.



That Emperour draws near to his domain,

He is come down unto the city Gailne.

The Count Rollanz had broken it and ta'en,

An hundred years its ruins shall remain.

Of Guenelun the King for news is fain,

And for tribute from the great land of Spain.

At dawn of day, just as the light grows plain,

Into their camp is come the county Guene.



In morning time is risen the Emperere,

Mattins and Mass he's heard, and made his prayer;

On the green grass before the tent his chair,

Where Rollant stood and that bold Oliver,

Neimes the Duke, and many others there.

Guenes arrived, the felon perjurer,

Begins to speak, with very cunning air,

Says to the King: "God keep you, Sire, I swear!

Of Sarraguce the keys to you I bear,

Tribute I bring you, very great and rare,

And twenty men; look after them with care.

Proud Marsilies bade me this word declare

That alcaliph, his uncle, you must spare.

My own eyes saw four hundred thousand there,

In hauberks dressed, closed helms that gleamed in the air,

And golden hilts upon their swords they bare.

They followed him, right to the sea they'll fare;

Marsile they left, that would their faith forswear,

For Christendom they've neither wish nor care.

But the fourth league they had not compassed, ere

Brake from the North tempest and storm in the air;

Then were they drowned, they will no more appear.

Were he alive, I should have brought him here.

The pagan king, in truth, Sire, bids you hear,

Ere you have seen one month pass of this year

He'll follow you to France, to your Empire,

He will accept the laws you hold and fear;

Joining his hands, will do you homage there,

Kingdom of Spain will hold as you declare."

Then says the King: "Now God be praised, I swear!

Well have you wrought, and rich reward shall wear."

Bids through the host a thousand trumpets blare.

Franks leave their lines; the sumpter-beasts are yare

T'wards France the Douce all on their way repair.



Charles the Great that land of Spain had wasted,

Her castles ta'en, her cities violated.

Then said the King, his war was now abated.

Towards Douce France that Emperour has hasted.

Upon a lance Rollant his ensign raised,

High on a cliff against the sky 'twas placed;

The Franks in camp through all that country baited.

Cantered pagans, through those wide valleys raced,

Hauberks they wore and sarks with iron plated,

Swords to their sides were girt, their helms were laced,

Lances made sharp, escutcheons newly painted:

There in the mists beyond the peaks remained

The day of doom four hundred thousand waited.

God! what a grief. Franks know not what is fated.



Passes the day, the darkness is grown deep.

That Emperour, rich Charles, lies asleep;

Dreams that he stands in the great pass of Size,

In his two hands his ashen spear he sees;

Guenes the count that spear from him doth seize,

Brandishes it and twists it with such ease,

That flown into the sky the flinders seem.

Charles sleeps on nor wakens from his dream.


And after this another vision saw,

In France, at Aix, in his Chapelle once more,

That his right arm an evil bear did gnaw;

Out of Ardennes he saw a leopard stalk,

His body dear did savagely assault;

But then there dashed a harrier from the hall,

Leaping in the air he sped to Charles call,

First the right ear of that grim bear he caught,

And furiously the leopard next he fought.

Of battle great the Franks then seemed to talk,

Yet which might win they knew not, in his thought.

Charles sleeps on, nor wakens he for aught.



Passes the night and opens the clear day;

That Emperour canters in brave array,

Looks through the host often and everyway;

"My lords barons," at length doth Charles say,

"Ye see the pass along these valleys strait,

Judge for me now, who shall in rereward wait."

"There's my good-son, Rollanz," then answers Guenes,

"You've no baron whose valour is as great."

When the King hears, he looks upon him straight,

And says to him: "You devil incarnate;

Into your heart is come a mortal hate.

And who shall go before me in the gate?"

"Oger is here, of Denmark;" answers Guenes,

"You've no baron were better in that place."



The count Rollanz hath heard himself decreed;

Speaks then to Guenes by rule of courtesy:

"Good-father, Sir, I ought to hold you dear,

Since the rereward you have for me decreed.

Charles the King will never lose by me,

As I know well, nor charger nor palfrey,

Jennet nor mule that canter can with speed,

Nor sumpter-horse will lose, nor any steed;

But my sword's point shall first exact their meed."

Answers him Guenes: "I know; 'tis true in-deed."



When Rollant heard that he should be rerewarden

Furiously he spoke to his good-father:

"Aha! culvert; begotten of a bastard.

Thinkest the glove will slip from me hereafter,

As then from thee the wand fell before Charles?"



"Right Emperour," says the baron Rollanz,

"Give me the bow you carry in your hand;

Neer in reproach, I know, will any man

Say that it fell and lay upon the land,

As Guenes let fall, when he received the wand."

That Emperour with lowered front doth stand,

He tugs his beard, his chin is in his hand

Tears fill his eyes, he cannot them command.


And after that is come duke Neimes furth,

(Better vassal there was not upon earth)

Says to the King: "Right well now have you heard

The count Rollanz to bitter wrath is stirred,

For that on him the rereward is conferred;

No baron else have you, would do that work.

Give him the bow your hands have bent, at first;

Then find him men, his company are worth."

Gives it, the King, and Rollant bears it furth.


That Emperour, Rollanz then calleth he:

"Fair nephew mine, know this in verity;

Half of my host I leave you presently;

Retain you them; your safeguard this shall be."

Then says the count: "I will not have them, me I

Confound me God, if I fail in the deed!

Good valiant Franks, a thousand score I'll keep.

Go through the pass in all security,

While I'm alive there's no man you need fear."



The count Rollanz has mounted his charger.

Beside him came his comrade Oliver,

Also Gerins and the proud count Geriers,

And Otes came, and also Berengiers,

Old Anseis, and Sansun too came there;

Gerart also of Rossillon the fierce,

And there is come the Gascon Engeliers.

"Now by my head I'll go!" the Archbishop swears.

"And I'm with you," says then the count Gualtiers,

"I'm Rollant's man, I may not leave him there."

A thousand score they choose of chevaliers.



Gualter del Hum he calls, that Count Rollanz;

"A thousand Franks take, out of France our land;

Dispose them so, among ravines and crags,

That the Emperour lose not a single man."

Gualter replies: "I'll do as you command."

A thousand Franks, come out of France their land,

At Gualter's word they scour ravines and crags;

They'll not come down, howe'er the news be bad,

Ere from their sheaths swords seven hundred flash.

King Almaris, Belserne for kingdom had,

On the evil day he met them in combat.



High are the peaks, the valleys shadowful,

Swarthy the rocks, the narrows wonderful.

Franks passed that day all very sorrowful,

Fifteen leagues round the rumour of them grew.

When they were come, and Terra Major knew,

Saw Gascony their land and their seigneur's,

Remembering their fiefs and their honours,

Their little maids, their gentle wives and true;

There was not one that shed not tears for rue.

Beyond the rest Charles was of anguish full,

In Spanish Pass he'd left his dear nephew;

Pity him seized; he could but weep for rue.



The dozen peers are left behind in Spain,

Franks in their band a thousand score remain,

No fear have these, death hold they in disdain.

That Emperour goes into France apace;

Under his cloke he fain would hide his face.

Up to his side comes cantering Duke Neimes,

Says to the King: "What grief upon you weighs?"

Charles answers him: "He's wrong that question makes.

So great my grief I cannot but complain.

France is destroyed, by the device of Guene:

This night I saw, by an angel's vision plain,

Between my hands he brake my spear in twain;

Great fear I have, since Rollant must remain:

I've left him there, upon a border strange.

God! If he's lost, I'll not outlive that shame."



Charles the great, he cannot but deplore.

And with him Franks an hundred thousand mourn,

Who for Rollanz have marvellous remorse.

The felon Guenes had treacherously wrought;

From pagan kin has had his rich reward,

Silver and gold, and veils and silken cloths,

Camels, lions, with many a mule and horse.

Barons from Spain King Marsilies hath called,

Counts and viscounts and dukes and almacours,

And the admirals, and cadets nobly born;

Within three days come hundreds thousands four.

In Sarraguce they sound the drums of war;

Mahum they raise upon their highest tow'r,

Pagan is none, that does not him adore.

They canter then with great contention

Through Certeine land, valleys and mountains, on,

Till of the Franks they see the gonfalons,

Being in rereward those dozen companions;

They will not fail battle to do anon.


Marsile's nephew is come before the band,

Riding a mule, he goads it with a wand,

Smiling and clear, his uncle's ear demands:

"Fair Lord and King, since, in your service, glad,

I have endured sorrow and sufferance,

Have fought in field, and victories have had.

Give me a fee: the right to smite Rollanz!

I'll slay him clean with my good trenchant lance,

If Mahumet will be my sure warrant;

Spain I'll set free, deliver all her land

From Pass of Aspre even unto Durestant.

Charles will grow faint, and recreant the Franks;

There'll be no war while you're a living man."

Marsilie gives the glove into his hand.



Marsile's nephew, holding in hand the glove,

His uncle calls, with reason proud enough:

"Fair Lord and King, great gift from you I've won.

Choose now for me eleven more baruns,

So I may fight those dozen companions."

First before all there answers Falfarun;

-- Brother he was to King Marsiliun --

"Fair sir nephew, go you and I at once

Then verily this battle shall be done;

The rereward of the great host of Carlun,

It is decreed we deal them now their doom."



King Corsablis is come from the other part,

Barbarian, and steeped in evil art.

He's spoken then as fits a good vassal,

For all God's gold he would not seem coward.

Hastes into view Malprimis of Brigal,

Faster than a horse, upon his feet can dart,

Before Marsile he cries with all his heart:

"My body I will shew at Rencesvals;

Find I Rollanz, I'll slay him without fault."


An admiral is there of Balaguet;

Clear face and proud, and body nobly bred;

Since first he was upon his horse mounted,

His arms to bear has shewn great lustihead;

In vassalage he is well famoused;

Christian were he, he'd shewn good baronhead.

Before Marsile aloud has he shouted:

"To Rencesvals my body shall be led;

Find I Rollanz, then is he surely dead,

And Oliver, and all the other twelve;

Franks shall be slain in grief and wretchedness.

Charles the great is old now and doted,

Weary will be and make no war again;

Spain shall be ours, in peace and quietness."

King Marsilies has heard and thanks him well.



An almacour is there of Moriane,

More felon none in all the land of Spain.

Before Marsile his vaunting boast hath made:

"To Rencesvals my company I'll take,

A thousand score, with shields and lances brave.

Find I Rollanz, with death I'll him acquaint;

Day shall not dawn but Charles will make his plaint."



From the other part, Turgis of Turtelose,

He was a count, that city was his own;

Christians he would them massacre, every one.

Before Marsile among the rest is gone,

Says to the King: "Let not dismay be shewn!

Mahum's more worth than Saint Peter of Rome;

Serve we him well, then fame in field we'll own.

To Rencesvals, to meet Rollanz I'll go,

From death he'll find his warranty in none.

See here my sword, that is both good and long

With Durendal I'll lay it well across;

Ye'll hear betimes to which the prize is gone.

Franks shall be slain, whom we descend upon,

Charles the old will suffer grief and wrong,

No more on earth his crown will he put on."


From the other part, Escremiz of Valtrenne,

A Sarrazin, that land was his as well.

Before Marsile he cries amid the press:

"To Rencesvals I go, pride to make less;

Find I Rollanz, he'll not bear thence his head,

Nor Oliver that hath the others led,

The dozen peers condemned are to death;

Franks shall be slain, and France lie deserted.

Of good vassals will Charles be richly bled."



From the other part, a pagan Esturganz;

Estramariz also, was his comrade;

Felons were these, and traitors miscreant.

Then said Marsile: "My Lords, before me stand!

Into the pass ye'll go to Rencesvals,

Give me your aid, and thither lead my band."

They answer him: "Sire, even as you command.

We will assault Olivier and Rollant,

The dozen peers from death have no warrant,

For these our swords are trusty and trenchant,

In scalding blood we'll dye their blades scarlat.

Franks shall be slain, and Chares be right sad.

Terra Major we'll give into your hand;

Come there, Sir King, truly you'll see all that

Yea, the Emperour we'll give into your hand."


Running there came Margariz of Sibile,

Who holds the land by Cadiz, to the sea.

For his beauty the ladies hold him dear;

Who looks on him, with him her heart is pleased,

When she beholds, she can but smile for glee.

Was no pagan of such high chivalry.

Comes through the press, above them all cries he,

"Be not at all dismayed, King Marsilie!

To Rencesvals I go, and Rollanz, he

Nor Oliver may scape alive from me;

The dozen peers are doomed to martyry.

See here the sword, whose hilt is gold indeed,

I got in gift from the admiral of Primes;

In scarlat blood I pledge it shall be steeped.

Franks shall be slain, and France abased be.

To Charles the old, with his great blossoming beard,

Day shall not dawn but brings him rage and grief,

Ere a year pass, all France we shall have seized,

Till we can lie in th' burgh of Saint Denise."

The pagan king has bowed his head down deep.



From the other part, Chemubles of Muneigre.

Right to the ground his hair swept either way;

He for a jest would bear a heavier weight

Than four yoked mules, beneath their load that strain.

That land he had, God's curse on it was plain.

No sun shone there, nor grew there any grain,

No dew fell there, nor any shower of rain,

The very stones were black upon that plain;

And many say that devils there remain.

Says Chemubles "My sword is in its place,

At Rencesvals scarlat I will it stain;

Find I Rollanz the proud upon my way,

I'll fall on him, or trust me not again,

And Durendal I'll conquer with this blade,

Franks shall be slain, and France a desert made."

The dozen peers are, at this word, away,

Five score thousand of Sarrazins they take;

Who keenly press, and on to battle haste;

In a fir-wood their gear they ready make.


Ready they make hauberks Sarrazinese,

That folded are, the greater part, in three;

And they lace on good helms Sarragucese;

Gird on their swords of tried steel Viennese;

Fine shields they have, and spears Valentinese,

And white, blue, red, their ensigns take the breeze,

They've left their mules behind, and their palfreys,

Their chargers mount, and canter knee by knee.

Fair shines the sun, the day is bright and clear,

Light bums again from all their polished gear.

A thousand horns they sound, more proud to seem;

Great is the noise, the Franks its echo hear.

Says Oliver: "Companion, I believe,

Sarrazins now in battle must we meet."

Answers Rollanz :"God grant us then the fee!

For our King's sake well must we quit us here;

Man for his lord should suffer great disease,

Most bitter cold endure, and burning heat,

His hair and skin should offer up at need.

Now must we each lay on most hardily,

So evil songs neer sung of us shall be.

Pagans are wrong: Christians are right indeed.

Evil example will never come of me."



Oliver mounts upon a lofty peak,

Looks to his right along the valley green,

The pagan tribes approaching there appear;

He calls Rollanz, his companion, to see:

"What sound is this, come out of Spain, we hear,

What hauberks bright, what helmets these that gleam?

They'll smite our Franks with fury past belief,

He knew it, Guenes, the traitor and the thief,

Who chose us out before the King our chief."

Answers the count Rollanz: "Olivier, cease.

That man is my good-father; hold thy peace."


Upon a peak is Oliver mounted,

Kingdom of Spain he sees before him spread,

And Sarrazins, so many gathered.

Their helmets gleam, with gold are jewelled,

Also their shields, their hauberks orfreyed,

Also their swords, ensigns on spears fixed.

Rank beyond rank could not be numbered,

So many there, no measure could he set.

In his own heart he's sore astonished,

Fast as he could, down from the peak hath sped

Comes to the Franks, to them his tale hath said.


Says Oliver: "Pagans from there I saw;

Never on earth did any man see more.

Gainst us their shields an hundred thousand bore,

That laced helms and shining hauberks wore;

And, bolt upright, their bright brown spearheads shone.

Battle we'll have as never was before.

Lords of the Franks, God keep you in valour!

So hold your ground, we be not overborne!"

Then say the Franks "Shame take him that goes off:

If we must die, then perish one and all."



Says Oliver: "Pagans in force abound,

While of us Franks but very few I count;

Comrade Rollanz, your horn I pray you sound!

If Charles hear, he'll turn his armies round."

Answers Rollanz: "A fool I should be found;

In France the Douce would perish my renown.

With Durendal I'll lay on thick and stout,

In blood the blade, to its golden hilt, I'll drown.

Felon pagans to th' pass shall not come down;

I pledge you now, to death they all are bound.



"Comrade Rollanz, sound the olifant, I pray;

If Charles hear, the host he'll turn again;

Will succour us our King and baronage."

Answers Rollanz: "Never, by God, I say,

For my misdeed shall kinsmen hear the blame,

Nor France the Douce fall into evil fame!

Rather stout blows with Durendal I'll lay,

With my good sword that by my side doth sway;

Till bloodied o'er you shall behold the blade.

Felon pagans are gathered to their shame;

I pledge you now, to death they're doomed to-day."


"Comrade Rollanz, once sound your olifant!

If Charles hear, where in the pass he stands,

I pledge you now, they'll turn again, the Franks."

"Never, by God," then answers him Rollanz,

"Shall it be said by any living man,

That for pagans I took my horn in hand!

Never by me shall men reproach my clan.

When I am come into the battle grand,

And blows lay on, by hundred, by thousand,

Of Durendal bloodied you'll see the brand.

Franks are good men; like vassals brave they'll stand;

Nay, Spanish men from death have no warrant."


Says Oliver: "In this I see no blame;

I have beheld the Sarrazins of Spain;

Covered with them, the mountains and the vales,

The wastes I saw, and all the farthest plains.

A muster great they've made, this people strange;

We have of men a very little tale."

Answers Rollanz: "My anger is inflamed.

Never, please God His Angels and His Saints,

Never by me shall Frankish valour fail!

Rather I'll die than shame shall me attain.

Therefore strike on, the Emperour's love to gain."


Pride hath Rollanz, wisdom Olivier hath;

And both of them shew marvellous courage;

Once they are horsed, once they have donned their arms,

Rather they'd die than from the battle pass.

Good are the counts, and lofty their language.

Felon pagans come cantering in their wrath.

Says Oliver: "Behold and see, Rollanz,

These are right near, but Charles is very far.

On the olifant deign now to sound a blast;

Were the King here, we should not fear damage.

Only look up towards the Pass of Aspre,

In sorrow there you'll see the whole rereward.

Who does this deed, does no more afterward."

Answers Rollanz: "Utter not such outrage!

Evil his heart that is in thought coward!

We shall remain firm in our place installed;

From us the blows shall come, from us the assault."