Fiction > Harvard Classics > The Song of Roland
  The Song of Roland.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
Part II: The Prelude of the Great Battle
Roland’s Pride

“In mighty strength are the heathen crew,”
Olivier said, “and our Franks are few;
My comrade, Roland, sound on your horn;
Karl will hear and his host return.”
“I were mad,” said Roland, “to do such deed;        5
Lost in France were my glory’s meed.
My Durindana shall smite full hard,
And her hilt be red to the golden guard.
The heathen felons shall find their fate;
Their death, I swear, in the pass they wait.”        10

“O Roland, sound on your ivory horn,
To the ear of Karl shall the blast be borne:
He will bid his legions backward bend,
And all his barons their aid will lend.”
“Now God forbid it, for very shame,        15
That for me my kindred were stained with blame,
Or that gentle France to such vileness fell:
This good sword that hath served me well,
My Durindana such strokes shall deal,
That with blood encrimsoned shall be the steel.        20
By their evil star are the felons led;
They shall all be numbered among the dead.”

“Roland, Roland, yet wind one blast!
Karl will hear ere the gorge be passed,
And the Franks return on their path full fast.”        25
“I will not sound on mine ivory horn:
It shall never be spoken of me in scorn,
That for heathen felons one blast I blew;
I may not dishonor my lineage true.
But I will strike, ere this fight be o’er,        30
A thousand strokes and seven hundred more,
And my Durindana shall drip with gore.
Our Franks will bear them like vassals brave
The Saracens flock but to find a grave.”

“I deem of neither reproach nor stain.
I have seen the Saracen host of Spain,
Over plain and valley and mountain spread,
And the regions hidden beneath their tread.
Countless the swarm of the foe, and we
A marvellous little company.”        40
Roland answered him, “All the more
My spirit within me burns therefore.
God and his angles of heaven defend
That France through me from her glory bend.
Death were better than fame laid low.        45
Our Emperor loveth a downright blow.”

Roland is daring and Olivier wise,
Both of marvellous high emprise;
On their chargers mounted, and girt in mail,
To the death in battle they will not quail.        50
Brave are the counts, and their words are high,
And the Pagans are fiercely riding nigh.
“See, Roland, see them, how close they are,
The Saracen foemen, and Karl how far!
Thou didst disdain on thy horn to blow.        55
Were the king but here we were spared this woe.
Look up through Aspra’s dread defile,
Where standeth our doomed rear-guard the while;
They will do their last brave feat this day,
No more to mingle in mortal fray.”        60
“Hush!” said Roland, “the craven tale—
Foul fall who carries a heart so pale;
Foot to foot shall we hold the place,
And rain our buffets and blows apace.”

When Roland felt that the battle came,
Lion or leopard to him were tame;
He shouted aloud to his Franks, and then
Called to his gentle compeer agen.
“My friend, my comrade, my Olivier,
The Emperor left us his bravest here;        70
Twice ten thousand he set apart,
And he knew among them no dastard heart.
For his lord the vassal must bear the stress
Of the winter’s cold and the sun’s excess—
Peril his flesh and his blood thereby:        75
Strike thou with thy good lance-point and I,
With Durindana, the matchless glaive
Which the king himself to my keeping gave,
That he who wears it when I lie cold
May say ’twas the sword of a vassal bold.”        80

Archbishop Turpin, above the rest,
Spurred his steed to a jutting crest.
His sermon thus to the Franks he spake:—
“Lords, we are here for our monarch’s sake;
Hold we for him, though our death should come;        85
Fight for the succor of Christendom.
The battle approaches—ye know it well,
For ye see the ranks of the infidel.
Cry mea culpa, and lowly kneel;
I will assoil you, your souls to heal.        90
In death ye are holy martyrs crowned.”
The Franks alighted, and knelt on ground;
In God’s high name the host he blessed,
And for penance gave them—to smite their best.

The Franks arose from bended knee,
Assoiled, and from their sins set free;
The archbishop blessed them fervently:
Then each one sprang on his bounding barb,
Armed and laced in knightly garb,
Apparelled all for the battle line.        100
At last said Roland, “Companion mine,
Too well the treason is now displayed,
How Ganelon hath our band betrayed.
To him the gifts and the treasures fell;
But our Emperor will avenge us well.        105
King Marsil deemeth us bought and sold;
The price shall be with our good swords told.”

Roland rideth the passes through,
On Veillantif, his charger true;
Girt in his harness that shone full fair,        110
And baron-like his lance he bare.
The steel erect in the sunshine gleamed,
With the snow-white pennon that from it streamed;
The golden fringes beat on his hand.
Joyous of visage was he, and bland,        115
Exceeding beautiful of frame;
And his warriors hailed him with glad acclaim.
Proudly he looked on the heathen ranks,
Humbly and sweetly upon his Franks.
Courteously spake he, in words of grace—        120
“Ride, my barons, at gentle pace.
The Saracens here to their slaughter toil:
Reap we, to-day, a glorious spoil,
Never fell to Monarch of France the like.”
At his words, the hosts are in act to strike.        125

Said Olivier, “Idle is speech, I trow;
Thou didst disdain on thy horn to blow.
Succor of Karl is far apart;
Our strait he knows not, the noble heart:
Not to him nor his host be blame;        130
Therefore, barons, in God’s good name,
Press ye onward, and strike your best,
Make your stand on this field to rest;
Think but of blows, both to give and take,
Never the watchword of Karl forsake.”        135
Then from the Franks resounded high—
“Montjoie!” Whoever had heard that cry
Would hold remembrance of chivalry.
Then ride they—how proudly, O God, they ride!—
With rowels dashed in their coursers’ side.        140
Fearless, too, are their paynim foes.
Frank and Saracen, thus they close.


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