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Song of Roland
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READ STUDY GUIDE: Laisses 237-263

 
Section 10:
Laisses 237-263
 
CCXXXVII
Great are the hosts, and all the columns fair,
No peak nor vale nor cliff between them there,
Thicket nor wood, nor ambush anywhere;
Across the plain they see each other well.
Says Baligant: "My pagan tribes adverse,
Battle to seek, canter ye now ahead!"
Carries the ensign Amboires of Oluferne;
Pagans cry out, by Preciuse they swear.
And the Franks say: "Great hurt this day you'll get!"
And very loud "Monjoie!" they cry again.
That Emperour has bid them sound trumpets;
And the olifant sounds over all its knell.
The pagans say: "Carlun's people are fair.
Battle we'll have, bitter and keenly set."
AOI.
CCXXXVIII
Great is that plain, and wide is that country;
Their helmets shine with golden jewellery,
Also their sarks embroidered and their shields,
And the ensigns fixed on all their burnished spears.
The trumpets sound, their voice is very clear,
And the olifant its echoing music speaks.
Then the admiral, his brother calleth he,
'Tis Canabeus, the king of Floredee,
Who holds the land unto the Vale Sevree;
He's shewn to him Carlun's ten companies:
"The pride of France, renowned land, you see.
That Emperour canters right haughtily,
His bearded men are with him in the rear;
Over their sarks they have thrown out their beards
Which are as white as driven snows that freeze.
Strike us they will with lances and with spears:
Battle with them we'll have, prolonged and keen;
Never has man beheld such armies meet."
Further than one might cast a rod that's peeled
Goes Baligant before his companies.
His reason then he's shewn to them, and speaks:
"Pagans, come on; for now I take the field."
His spear in hand he brandishes and wields,
Towards Carlun has turned the point of steel.
AOI.
CCXXXIX
Charles the Great, when he sees the admiral
And the dragon, his ensign and standard;—
(In such great strength are mustered those Arabs
Of that country they've covered every part
Save only that whereon the Emperour was.)
The King of France in a loud voice has called:
"Barons and Franks, good vassals are ye all,
Ye in the field have fought so great combats;
See the pagans; they're felons and cowards,
No pennyworth is there in all their laws.
Though they've great hosts, my lords, what matters that?
Let him go hence, who'ld fail me in the attack."
Next with both spurs he's gored his horse's flanks,
And Tencendor has made four bounds thereat.
Then say the Franks: "This King's a good vassal.
Canter, brave lord, for none of us holds back."
CCXL
Clear is the day, and the sun radiant;
The hosts are fair, the companies are grand.
The first columns are come now hand to hand.
The count Rabel and the count Guinemans
Let fall the reins on their swift horses' backs,
Spurring in haste; then on rush all the Franks,
And go to strike, each with his trenchant lance.
AOI.
CCXLI
That count Rabel, he was a hardy knight,
He pricked his horse with spurs of gold so fine,
The Persian king, Torleu, he went to strike.
Nor shield nor sark could such a blow abide;
The golden spear his carcass passed inside;
Flung down upon a little bush, he died.
Then say the Franks: "Lord God, be Thou our Guide!
Charles we must not fail; his cause is right."
AOI.
CCXLII
And Guineman tilts with the king Leutice;
Has broken all the flowers on his shield,
Next of his sark he has undone the seam,
All his ensign thrust through the carcass clean,
So flings him dead, let any laugh or weep.
Upon that blow, the Franks cry out with heat:
"Strike on, baron, nor slacken in your speed!
Charle's in the right against the pagan breed;
God sent us here his justice to complete."
AOI.
CCXLIII
Pure white the horse whereon Malprimes sate;
Guided his corse amid the press of Franks,
Hour in, hour out, great blows he struck them back,
And, ever, dead one upon others packed.
Before them all has cried out Baligant:
"Barons, long time I've fed you at my hand.
Ye see my son, who goes on Carlun's track,
And with his arms so many lords attacks;
Better vassal than him I'll not demand.
Go, succour him, each with his trenchant lance!"
Upon that word the pagans all advance;
Grim blows they strike, the slaughter's very grand.
And marvellous and weighty the combat:
Before nor since was never such attack.
AOI.
CCXLIV
Great are the hosts; the companies in pride
Come touching, all the breadth of either side;
And the pagans do marvellously strike.
So many shafts, by God! in pieces lie
And crumpled shields, and sarks with mail untwined!
So spattered all the earth there would you find
That through the field the grass so green and fine
With men's life-blood is all vermilion dyed.
That admiral rallies once more his tribe:
"Barons, strike on, shatter the Christian line."
Now very keen and lasting is the fight,
As never was, before or since that time;
The finish none shall reach, unless he die.
AOI.
CCXLV
That admiral to all his race appeals:
"Pagans, strike on; came you not therefore here?
I promise you noble women and dear,
I promise you honours and lands and fiefs."
Answer pagans: "We must do well indeed."
With mighty blows they shatter all their spears;
Five score thousand swords from their scabbards leap,
Slaughter then, grim and sorrowful, you'd seen.
Battle he saw, that stood those hosts between.
AOI.
CCXLVI
That Emperour calls on his Franks and speaks:
"I love you, lords, in whom I well believe;
So many great battles you've fought for me,
Kings overthrown, and kingdoms have redeemed!
Guerdon I owe, I know it well indeed;
My lands, my wealth, my body are yours to keep.
For sons, for heirs, for brothers wreak
Who in Rencesvals were slaughtered yester-eve!
Mine is the right, ye know, gainst pagan breeds."
Answer the Franks: "Sire, 'tis the truth you speak."
Twenty thousand beside him Charles leads,
Who with one voice have sworn him fealty;
In straits of death they never will him leave.
There is not one thenceforth employs his spear,
But with their swords they strike in company.
The battle is straitened marvellously.
AOI.
CCXLVII
Across that field the bold Malprimes canters;
Who of the Franks hath wrought there much great damage.
Naimes the Duke right haughtily regards him,
And goes to strike him, like a man of valour,
And of his shield breaks all the upper margin,
Tears both the sides of his embroidered ha'berk,
Through the carcass thrusts all his yellow banner;
So dead among sev'n hundred else he casts him.
CCXLVIII
King Canabeus, brother of the admiral,
Has pricked his horse with spurs in either flank;
He's drawn his sword, whose hilt is of crystal,
And strikes Naimun on's helmet principal;
Away from it he's broken off one half,
Five of the links his brand of steel hath knapped;
No pennyworth the hood is after that;
Right to the flesh he slices through the cap;
One piece of it he's flung upon the land.
Great was the blow; the Duke, amazed thereat,
Had fallen ev'n, but aid from God he had;
His charger's neck he clasped with both his hands.
Had the pagan but once renewed the attack,
Then was he slain, that noble old vassal.
Came there to him, with succour, Charles of France.
AOI.
CCXLIX
Keen anguish then he suffers, that Duke Naimes,
And the pagan, to strike him, hotly hastens.
"Culvert," says Charles, "You'll get now as you gave him!"
With vassalage he goes to strike that pagan,
Shatters his shield, against his heart he breaks it,
Tears the chin-guard above his hauberk mailed;
So flings him dead: his saddle shall be wasted.
CCL
Bitter great grief has Charlemagne the King,
Who Duke Naimun before him sees lying,
On the green grass all his clear blood shedding.
Then the Emperour to him this counsel gives:
"Fair master Naimes, canter with me to win!
The glutton's dead, that had you straitly pinned;
Through his carcass my spear I thrust once in."
Answers the Duke: "Sire, I believe it, this.
Great proof you'll have of valour, if I live."
They 'ngage them then, true love and faith swearing;
A thousand score of Franks surround them still.
Nor is there one, but slaughters, strikes and kills.
AOI.
CCLI
Then through the field cantered that admiral,
Going to strike the county Guineman;
Against his heart his argent shield he cracked,
The folds of his hauberk apart he slashed,
Two of his ribs out of his side he hacked,
So flung him dead, while still his charger ran.
After, he slew Gebuin and Lorain,
Richard the old, the lord of those Normans.
"Preciuse," cry pagans, "is valiant!
Baron, strike on; here have we our warrant!"
AOI.
CCLII
Who then had seen those Arrabit chevaliers,
From Occiant, from Argoille and from Bascle!
And well they strike and slaughter with their lances;
But Franks, to escape they think it no great matter;
On either side dead men to the earth fall crashing.
Till even-tide 'tis very strong, that battle;
Barons of France do suffer much great damage,
Grief shall be there ere the two hosts be scattered.
AOI.
CCLIII
Right well they strike, both Franks and Arrabies,
Breaking the shafts of all their burnished spears.
Whoso had seen that shattering of shields,
Whoso had heard those shining hauberks creak,
And heard those shields on iron helmets beat,
Whoso had seen fall down those chevaliers,
And heard men groan, dying upon that field,
Some memory of bitter pains might keep.
That battle is most hard to endure, indeed.
And the admiral calls upon Apollin
And Tervagan and Mahum, prays and speaks:
"My lords and gods, I've done you much service;
Your images, in gold I'll fashion each;
Against Carlun give me your warranty!"
Comes before him his dear friend Gemalfin,
Evil the news he brings to him and speaks:
"Sir Baliganz, this day in shame you're steeped;
For you have lost your son, even Malprime;
And Canabeus, your brother, slain is he.
Fairly two Franks have got the victory;
That Emperour was one, as I have seen;
Great limbs he has, he's every way Marquis,
White is his beard as flowers in April."
That admiral has bent his head down deep,
And thereafter lowers his face and weeps,
Fain would he die at once, so great his grief;
He calls to him Jangleu from over sea.
AOI.
CCLIV
Says the admiral, "Jangleu, beside me stand!
For you are proof, and greatly understand,
Counsel from you I've ever sought to have.
How seems it you, of Arrabits and Franks,
Shall we from hence victorious go back?"
He answers him: "Slain are you, Baligant!
For from your gods you'll never have warrant.
So proud is Charles, his men so valiant,
Never saw I a race so combatant.
But call upon barons of Occiant,
Turks and Enfruns, Arrabits and Giants.
No more delay: what must be, take in hand."
CCLV
That admiral has shaken out his beard
That ev'n so white as thorn in blossom seems;
He'll no way hide, whateer his fate may be,
Then to his mouth he sets a trumpet clear,
And clearly sounds, so all the pagans hear.
Throughout the field rally his companies.
From Occiant, those men who bray and bleat,
And from Argoille, who, like dogs barking, speak;
Seek out the Franks with such a high folly,
Break through their line, the thickest press they meet
Dead from that shock they've seven thousand heaped.
CCLVI
The count Oger no cowardice e'er knew,
Better vassal hath not his sark indued.
He sees the Franks, their columns broken through,
So calls to him Duke Tierris, of Argune,
Count Jozeran, and Gefreid, of Anjou;
And to Carlun most proud his reason proves:
"Behold pagans, and how your men they slew!
Now from your head please God the crown remove
Unless you strike, and vengeance on them do!"
And not one word to answer him he knew;
They spurred in haste, their horses let run loose,
And, wheresoeer they met the pagans, strook.
AOI.
CCLVII
Now very well strikes the King Charlemagne,
Naimes the Duke, also Oger the Dane,
Geifreid d'Anjou, who that ensign displays.
Exceeding proof is Don Oger, the Dane;
He spurs his horse, and lets him run in haste,
So strikes that man who the dragon displays.
Both in the field before his feet he breaks
That king's ensign and dragon, both abased.
Baligant sees his gonfalon disgraced,
And Mahumet's standard thrown from its place;
That admiral at once perceives it plain,
That he is wrong, and right is Charlemain.
Pagan Arabs coyly themselves contain;
That Emperour calls on his Franks again:
"Say, barons, come, support me, in God's Name!"
Answer the Franks, "Question you make in vain;
All felon he that dares not exploits brave!"
AOI.
CCLVIII
Passes that day, turns into vesper-tide.
Franks and pagans still with their swords do strike.
Brave vassals they, who brought those hosts to fight,
Never have they forgotten their ensigns;
That admiral still "Preciuse" doth cry,
Charles "Monjoie," renowned word of pride.
Each the other knows by his clear voice and high;
Amid the field they're both come into sight,
Then, as they go, great blows on either side
They with their spears on their round targes strike;
And shatter them, beneath their buckles wide;
And all the folds of their hauberks divide;
But bodies, no; wound them they never might.
Broken their girths, downwards their saddles slide;
Both those Kings fall, themselves aground do find;
Nimbly enough upon their feet they rise;
Most vassal-like they draw their swords outright.
From this battle they'll ne'er be turned aside
Nor make an end, without that one man die.
AOI.
CCLIX
A great vassal was Charles, of France the Douce;
That admiral no fear nor caution knew.
Those swords they had, bare from their sheaths they drew;
Many great blows on 's shield each gave and took;
The leather pierced, and doubled core of wood;
Down fell the nails, the buckles brake in two;
Still they struck on, bare in their sarks they stood.
From their bright helms the light shone forth anew.
Finish nor fail that battle never could
But one of them must in the wrong be proved.
AOI.
CCLX
Says the admiral: "Nay, Charles, think, I beg,
And counsel take that t'wards me thou repent!
Thou'st slain my son, I know that very well;
Most wrongfully my land thou challengest;
Become my man, a fief from me thou'lt get;
Come, serving me, from here to the Orient!"
Charle answers him: "That were most vile offence;
No peace nor love may I to pagan lend.
Receive the Law that God to us presents,
Christianity, and then I'll love thee well;
Serve and believe the King Omnipotent!"
Says Baligant: "Evil sermon thou saist."
They go to strikewith th'swords, are on their belts.
AOI.
CCLXI
In the admiral is much great virtue found;
He strikes Carlun on his steel helm so brown,
Has broken it and rent, above his brow,
Through his thick hair the sword goes glancing round,
A great palm's breadth and more of flesh cuts out,
So that all bare the bone is, in that wound.
Charles tottereth, falls nearly to the ground;
God wills not he be slain or overpow'red.
Saint Gabriel once more to him comes down,
And questions him "Great King, what doest thou?"
CCLXII
Charles, hearing how that holy Angel spake,
Had fear of death no longer, nor dismay;
Remembrance and a fresh vigour he's gained.
So the admiral he strikes with France's blade,
His helmet breaks, whereon the jewels blaze,
Slices his head, to scatter all his brains,
And, down unto the white beard, all his face;
So he falls dead, recovers not again.
"Monjoie," cries Charles, that all may know the tale.
Upon that word is come to him Duke Naimes,
Holds Tencendur, bids mount that King so Great.
Pagans turn back, God wills not they remain.
And Franks have all their wish, be that what may.
CCLXIII
Pagans are fled, ev'n as the Lord God wills;
Chase them the Franks, and the Emperour therewith.
Says the King then: "My Lords, avenge your ills,
Unto your hearts' content, do what you will!.
For tears, this morn, I saw your eyes did spill."
Answer the Franks: "Sir, even so we will."
Then such great blows, as each may strike, he gives
That few escape, of those remain there still.
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