Fiction > Harvard Classics > The Song of Roland
  The Song of Roland.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
Part I: The Treason of Ganelon
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        5
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        10
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,        15
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,        20
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        25
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!        30
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,        35
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.        40
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 claspèd hands your liegeman be,        45
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;        50
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,        55
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;        60
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.”        65
“Yea!” said Karl, “he may yet be saved.”

Fair and bright did the evening fall:
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;        70
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,        75
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        80
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,        85
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.        90

“Lords my barons,” the Emperor said,
“King Marsil to me hath his envoys sped.
He proffers treasure surpassing bounds,
Bears and lions, and leashèd hounds;
Seven hundred camels that bend the knee;        95
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,        100
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,        110
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.        115
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,—        120
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,        125
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:        130
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,        135
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,        140
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.        145
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;        150
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.        155
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        165
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.”        170
“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.        175
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 silent there.

Turpin of Rheims from amid the ranks
Said: “Look, 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,        185
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,        195
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.        200
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,        205
And thou doom’t 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.        210
“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.        215
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.        220

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.        225
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,        230
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.        235
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;        240
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,        245
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.        250

“Gan,” said the Emperor, “draw thou near:
Take my glove and my bâton 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,        255
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.”        260
“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:        265
“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?”        270
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 sealed.

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.        280
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.        285
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.”        290
“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,        295
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.


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