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

ROLAND feeleth his death is near,
His brain is oozing by either ear.
For his peers he prayed—God keep them well;
Invoked the angel Gabriel.
That none reproach him, his horn he clasped;        5
His other hand Durindana grasped;
Then, far as quarrel from crossbow sent,
Across the march of Spain he went,
Where, on a mound, two trees between,
Four flights of marble steps were seen;        10
Backward he fell, on the field to lie;
And he swooned anon, for the end was nigh.

High were the mountains and high the trees,
Bright shone the marble terraces;
On the green grass Roland hath swooned away.        15
A Saracen spied him where he lay:
Stretched with the rest he had feigned him dead,
His face and body with blood bespread.
To his feet he sprang, and in haste he hied,—
He was fair and strong and of courage tried,        20
In pride and wrath he was overbold,—
And on Roland, body and arms, laid hold.
“The nephew of Karl is overthrown!
To Araby bear I this sword, mine own.”
He stooped to grasp it, but as he drew,        25
Roland returned to his sense anew.

He saw the Saracen seize his sword;
His eyes he oped, and he spake one word—
“Thou art not one of our band, I trow,”
And he clutched the horn he would ne’er forego;        30
On the golden crest he smote him full,
Shattering steel and bone and skull,
Forth from his head his eyes he beat,
And cast him lifeless before his feet.
“Miscreant, makest thou then so free,        35
As, right or wrong, to lay hold on me?
Who hears it will deem thee a madman born;
Behold the mouth of mine ivory horn
Broken for thee, and the gems and gold
Around its rim to earth are rolled.”        40

Roland feeleth his eyesight reft,
Yet he stands erect with what strength is left;
From his bloodless cheek is the hue dispelled,
But his Durindana all bare he held.
In front a dark brown rock arose—        45
He smote upon it ten grievous blows.
Grated the steel as it struck the flint,
Yet it brake not, nor bore its edge one dint.
“Mary, Mother, be thou mine aid!
Ah, Durindana, my ill-starred blade,        50
I may no longer thy guardian be!
What fields of battle I won with thee!
What realms and regions ’twas ours to gain,
Now the lordship of Carlemaine!
Never shalt thou possessor know        55
Who would turn from face of mortal foe;
A gallant vassal so long thee bore,
Such as France the free shall know no more.”

He smote anew on the marble stair.
It grated, but breach nor notch was there.        60
When Roland found that it would not break,
Thus began he his plaint to make.
“Ah, Durindana, how fair and bright
Thou sparklest, flaming against the light!
When Karl in Maurienne valley lay,        65
God sent his angel from heaven to say—
‘This sword shall a valorous captain’s be,’
And he girt it, the gentle king, on me.
With it I vanquished Poitou and Maine,
Provence I conquered and Aquitaine;        70
I conquered Normandy the free,
Anjou, and the marches of Brittany;
Romagna I won, and Lombardy,
Bavaria, Flanders from side to side,
And Burgundy, and Poland wide;        75
Constantinople affiance vowed,
And the Saxon soil to his bidding bowed;
Scotia, and Wales, and Ireland’s plain,
Of England made he his own domain.
What mighty regions I won of old,        80
For the hoary-headed Karl to hold!
But there presses on me a grievous pain,
Lest thou in heathen hands remain.
O God our Father, keep France from stain!”

His strokes once more on the brown rock fell,
And the steel was bent past words to tell;
Yet it brake not, nor was notched the grain,
Erect it leaped to the sky again.
When he failed at the last to break his blade,
His lamentation he inly made.        90
“Oh, fair and holy, my peerless sword,
What relics lie in thy pommel stored!
Tooth of Saint Peter, Saint Basil’s blood,
Hair of Saint Denis beside them strewed,
Fragment of holy Mary’s vest.        95
’Twere shame that thou with the heathen rest;
Thee should the hand of a Christian serve
One who would never in battle swerve.
What regions won I with thee of yore,
The empire now of Karl the hoar!        100
Rich and mighty is he therefore.”

That death was on him he knew full well;
Down from his head to his heart it fell.
On the grass beneath a pine-tree’s shade,
With face to earth, his form he laid,        105
Beneath him placed he his horn and sword,
And turned his face to the heathen horde.
Thus hath he done the sooth to show,
That Karl and his warriors all may know,
That the gentle count a conqueror died.        110
Mea Culpa full oft he cried;
And, for all his sins, unto God above,
In sign of penance, he raised his glove.

Roland feeleth his hour at hand;
On a knoll he lies towards the Spanish land.        115
With one hand beats he upon his breast:
“In thy sight, Ò God, be my sins confessed.
From my hour of birth, both the great and small,
Down to this day, I repent of all.”
As his glove he raises to God on high,        120
Angels of heaven descend him nigh.

Beneath a pine was his resting-place,
To the land of Spain hath he turned his face,
On his memory rose full many a thought—
Of the lands he won and the fields he fought;        125
Of his gentle France, of his kin and line;
Of his nursing father, King Karl benign;—
He may not the tear and sob control,
Nor yet forgets he his parting soul.
To God’s compassion he makes his cry:        130
“O Father true, who canst not lie,
Who didst Lazarus raise unto life agen,
And Daniel shield in the lions’ den;
Shield my soul from its peril, due
For the sins I sinned my lifetime through.”        135
He did his right-hand glove uplift—
Saint Gabriel took from his hand the gift;
Then drooped his head upon his breast,
And with claspèd hands he went to rest.
God from on high sent down to him        140
One of his angel Cherubim—
Saint Michael of Peril of the sea,
Saint Gabriel in company—
From heaven they came for that soul of price,
And they bore it with them to Paradise.        145


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