The Song of Roland
Category: Verse
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"The Song of Roland" is a medieval epic poem that tells the story of Roland, a valiant knight and loyal friend of Charlemagne, the King of the Franks. The poem depicts Roland's heroic sacrifice in battle against the Saracen army at the Battle of Roncevaux Pass. Despite being greatly outnumbered, Roland and his men fight with great courage and determination, inspired by their faith and love for their country. In the end, Roland blows his horn, signaling his impending death, but also rallying his fellow knights to continue the fight. The poem celebrates the virtues of chivalry, loyalty, and bravery, and has been hailed as a masterpiece of medieval literature.

The Song of Roland


Translated by
Charles Kenneth Scott Moncrieff

The eight phases of The Song of Roland in one picture, illuminated by Simon Marmion.The eight phases of The Song of Roland in one picture, illuminated by Simon Marmion.

- I -

Charles the King, our Lord and Sovereign,
Full seven years hath sojourned in Spain,
Conquered the land, and won the western main,
Now no fortress against him doth remain,
No city walls are left for him to gain,
Save Sarraguce, that sits on high mountain.
Marsile its King, who feareth not God’s name,
Mahumet’s man, he invokes Apollin’s aid,
Nor wards off ills that shall to him attain.


- II -

King Marsilies he lay at Sarraguce,
Went he his way into an orchard cool;
There on a throne he sate, of marble blue,
Round him his men, full twenty thousand, stood.
Called he forth then his counts, also his dukes:
“My Lords, give ear to our impending doom:
That Emperour, Charles of France the Douce,
Into this land is come, us to confuse.
I have no host in battle him to prove,
Nor have I strength his forces to undo.
Counsel me then, ye that are wise and true;
Can ye ward off this present death and dule?”
What word to say no pagan of them knew,
Save Blancandrin, of th’ Castle of Val Funde.

- III -

Blancandrins was a pagan very wise,
In vassalage he was a gallant knight,
First in prowess, he stood his lord beside.
And thus he spoke: “Do not yourself affright!
Yield to Carlun, that is so big with pride,
Faithful service, his friend and his ally;
Lions and bears and hounds for him provide,
Thousand mewed hawks, sev’n hundred camelry;
Silver and gold, four hundred mules load high;
Fifty wagons his wrights will need supply,
Till with that wealth he pays his soldiery.
War hath he waged in Spain too long a time,
To Aix, in France, homeward he will him hie.
Follow him there before Saint Michael’s tide,
You shall receive and hold the Christian rite;
Stand honour bound, and do him fealty.
Send hostages, should he demand surety,
Ten or a score, our loyal oath to bind;
Send him our sons, the first-born of our wives;—
An he be slain, I’ll surely furnish mine.
Better by far they go, though doomed to die,
Than that we lose honour and dignity,
And be ourselves brought down to beggary.”


- IV -

Says Blancandrins: “By my right hand, I say,
And by this beard, that in the wind doth sway,
The Frankish host you’ll see them all away;
Franks will retire to France their own terrain.
When they are gone, to each his fair domain,
In his Chapelle at Aix will Charles stay,
High festival will hold for Saint Michael.
Time will go by, and pass the appointed day;
Tidings of us no Frank will hear or say.
Proud is that King, and cruel his courage;
From th’ hostage he’ll slice their heads away.
Better by far their heads be shorn away,
Than that ourselves lose this clear land of Spain,
Than that ourselves do suffer grief and pain.”
“That is well said. So be it,” the pagans say.

- V -

The council ends, and that King Marsilie
Calleth aside Clarun of Balaguee,
Estramarin and Eudropin his peer,
And Priamun and Guarlan of the beard,
And Machiner and his uncle Mahee,
With Jouner, Malbien from over sea,
And Blancandrin, good reason to decree:
Ten hath he called, were first in felony.
“Gentle Barons, to Charlemagne go ye;
He is in siege of Cordres the city.
In your right hands bear olive-branches green
Which signify Peace and Humility.
If you by craft contrive to set me free,
Silver and gold, you’ll have your fill of me,
Manors and fiefs, I’ll give you all your need.”
“We have enough,” the pagans straight agree.


- VI -

King Marsilies, his council finishing,
Says to his men: “Go now, my lords, to him,
Olive-branches in your right hands bearing;
Bid ye for me that Charlemagne, the King,
In his God’s name to shew me his mercy;
Ere this new moon wanes, I shall be with him;
One thousand men shall be my following;
I will receive the rite of christening,
Will be his man, my love and faith swearing;
Hostages too, he’ll have, if so he will.”
Says Blancandrins: “Much good will come of this.”


- VII -

Ten snow-white mules then ordered Marsilie,
Gifts of a King, the King of Suatilie.
Bridled with gold, saddled in silver clear;
Mounted them those that should the message speak,
In their right hands were olive-branches green.
Came they to Charle, that holds all France in fee,
Yet cannot guard himself from treachery.


- VIII -

Merry and bold is now that Emperour,
Cordres he holds, the walls are tumbled down,
His catapults have battered town and tow’r.
Great good treasure his knights have placed in pound,
Silver and gold and many a jewelled gown.
In that city there is no pagan now
But he been slain, or takes the Christian vow.
The Emperour is in a great orchard ground
Where Oliver and Rollant stand around,
Sansun the Duke and Anseis the proud,
Gefreid d’Anjou, that bears his gonfaloun;
There too Gerin and Geriers are found.
Where they are found, is seen a mighty crowd,
Fifteen thousand, come out of France the Douce.
On white carpets those knights have sate them down,
At the game-boards to pass an idle hour; —
Chequers the old, for wisdom most renowned,
While fence the young and lusty bachelours.
Beneath a pine, in eglantine embow’red,
Stands a fald-stool, fashioned of gold throughout;
There sits the King, that holds Douce France in pow’r;
White is his beard, and blossoming-white his crown,
Shapely his limbs, his countenance is proud.
Should any seek, no need to point him out.
The messengers, on foot they get them down,
And in salute full courteously they lout.

- IX -

The foremost word of all Blancandrin spake,
And to the King: “May God preserve you safe,
The All Glorious, to Whom ye’re bound to pray!
Proud Marsilies this message bids me say:
Much hath he sought to find salvation’s way;
Out of his wealth meet presents would he make,
Lions and bears, and greyhounds leashed on chain,
Thousand mewed hawks, sev’n hundred dromedrays,
Four hundred mules his silver shall convey,
Fifty wagons you’ll need to bear away
Golden besants, such store of proved assay,
Wherewith full tale your soldiers you can pay.
Now in this land you’ve been too long a day
Hie you to France, return again to Aix;
Thus saith my Lord, he’ll follow too that way.”
That Emperour t’wards God his arms he raised
Lowered his head, began to meditate.


- X -

That Emperour inclined his head full low;
Hasty in speech he never was, but slow:
His custom was, at his leisure he spoke.
When he looks up, his face is very bold,
He says to them: “Good tidings have you told.
King Marsilies hath ever been my foe.
These very words you have before me told,
In what measure of faith am I to hold?”
That Sarrazin says, “Hostages he’ll show;
Ten shall you take, or fifteen or a score.
Though he be slain, a son of mine shall go,
Any there be you’ll have more nobly born.
To your palace seigneurial when you go,
At Michael’s Feast, called in periculo;
My Lord hath said, thither will he follow
Ev’n to your baths, that God for you hath wrought;
There is he fain the Christian faith to know.”
Answers him Charles: “Still may he heal his soul.”

- XI -

Clear shone the sun in a fair even-tide;
Those ten men’s mules in stall he bade them tie.
Also a tent in the orchard raise on high,
Those messengers had lodging for the night;
Dozen serjeants served after them aright.
Darkling they lie till comes the clear daylight.
That Emperour does with the morning rise;
Matins and Mass are said then in his sight.
Forth goes that King, and stays beneath a pine;
Barons he calls, good counsel to define,
For with his Franks he’s ever of a mind.


- XII -

That Emperour, beneath a pine he sits,
Calls his barons, his council to begin:
Oger the Duke, that Archbishop Turpin,
Richard the old, and his nephew Henry,
From Gascony the proof Count Acolin,
Tedbald of Reims and Milun his cousin:
With him there were Gerers, also Gerin,
And among them the Count Rollant came in,
And Oliver, so proof and so gentil.
Franks out of France, a thousand chivalry;
Guenes came there, that wrought the treachery.
The Council then began, which ended ill.


- XIII -

“My Lords Barons,” says the Emperour then, Charles,
“King Marsilies hath sent me his messages;
Out of his wealth he’ll give me weighty masses.
Greyhounds on leash and bears and lions also,
Thousand mewed hawks and seven hundred camels,
Four hundred mules with gold Arabian charged,
Fifty wagons, yea more than fifty drawing.
But into France demands he my departure;
He’ll follow me to Aix, where is my Castle;
There he’ll receive the law of our Salvation:
Christian he’ll be, and hold from me his marches.
But I know not what purpose in his heart is.”
Then say the Franks: “Beseems us act with caution!”


- XIV -

That Emperour hath ended now his speech.
The Count Rollanz, he never will agree,
Quick to reply, he springs upon his feet;
And to the King, “Believe not Marsilie.
Seven years since, when into Spain came we,
I conquer’d you Noples also Commibles,
And took Valterne, and all the land of Pine,
And Balaguet, and Tuele, and Sezilie.
Traitor in all his ways was Marsilies;
Of his pagans he sent you then fifteen,
Bearing in hand their olive-branches green:
Who, ev’n as now, these very words did speak.
You of your Franks a Council did decree,
Praised they your words that foolish were in deed.
Two of your Counts did to the pagan speed,
Basan was one, and the other Basilie:
Their heads he took on th’ hill by Haltilie.
War have you waged, so on to war proceed,
To Sarraguce lead forth your great army.
All your life long, if need be, lie in siege,
Vengeance for those the felon slew to wreak.”


- XV -

That Emperour he sits with lowering front,
He clasps his chin, his beard his fingers tug,
Good word nor bad, his nephew not one.
Franks hold their peace, but only Guenelun
Springs to his feet, and comes before Carlun;
Right haughtily his reason he’s begun,
And to the King: “Believe not any one,
My word nor theirs, save whence your good shall come.
Since he sends word, that King Marsiliun,
Homage he’ll do, by finger and by thumb;
Throughout all Spain your writ alone shall run
Next he’ll receive our rule of Christendom
Who shall advise, this bidding be not done,
Deserves not death, since all to death must come.
Counsel of pride is wrong: we’ve fought enough.
Leave we the fools, and with the wise be one.”


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