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Song of Roland
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READ STUDY GUIDE: Laisses 53-78

 
Section 3:
Laisses 53-78
 
LIII
That Emperour draws near to his domain,
He is come down unto the city Gailne.
The Count Rollanz had broken it and ta'en,
An hundred years its ruins shall remain.
Of Guenelun the King for news is fain,
And for tribute from the great land of Spain.
At dawn of day, just as the light grows plain,
Into their camp is come the county Guene.
AOI.
LIV
In morning time is risen the Emperere,
Mattins and Mass he's heard, and made his prayer;
On the green grass before the tent his chair,
Where Rollant stood and that bold Oliver,
Neimes the Duke, and many others there.
Guenes arrived, the felon perjurer,
Begins to speak, with very cunning air,
Says to the King: "God keep you, Sire, I swear!
Of Sarraguce the keys to you I bear,
Tribute I bring you, very great and rare,
And twenty men; look after them with care.
Proud Marsilies bade me this word declare
That alcaliph, his uncle, you must spare.
My own eyes saw four hundred thousand there,
In hauberks dressed, closed helms that gleamed in the air,
And golden hilts upon their swords they bare.
They followed him, right to the sea they'll fare;
Marsile they left, that would their faith forswear,
For Christendom they've neither wish nor care.
But the fourth league they had not compassed, ere
Brake from the North tempest and storm in the air;
Then were they drowned, they will no more appear.
Were he alive, I should have brought him here.
The pagan king, in truth, Sire, bids you hear,
Ere you have seen one month pass of this year
He'll follow you to France, to your Empire,
He will accept the laws you hold and fear;
Joining his hands, will do you homage there,
Kingdom of Spain will hold as you declare."
Then says the King: "Now God be praised, I swear!
Well have you wrought, and rich reward shall wear."
Bids through the host a thousand trumpets blare.
Franks leave their lines; the sumpter-beasts are yare
T'wards France the Douce all on their way repair.
AOI.
LV
Charles the Great that land of Spain had wasted,
Her castles ta'en, her cities violated.
Then said the King, his war was now abated.
Towards Douce France that Emperour has hasted.
Upon a lance Rollant his ensign raised,
High on a cliff against the sky 'twas placed;
The Franks in camp through all that country baited.
Cantered pagans, through those wide valleys raced,
Hauberks they wore and sarks with iron plated,
Swords to their sides were girt, their helms were laced,
Lances made sharp, escutcheons newly painted:
There in the mists beyond the peaks remained
The day of doom four hundred thousand waited.
God! what a grief. Franks know not what is fated.
AOI.
LVI
Passes the day, the darkness is grown deep.
That Emperour, rich Charles, lies asleep;
Dreams that he stands in the great pass of Size,
In his two hands his ashen spear he sees;
Guenes the count that spear from him doth seize,
Brandishes it and twists it with such ease,
That flown into the sky the flinders seem.
Charles sleeps on nor wakens from his dream.
LVII
And after this another vision saw,
In France, at Aix, in his Chapelle once more,
That his right arm an evil bear did gnaw;
Out of Ardennes he saw a leopard stalk,
His body dear did savagely assault;
But then there dashed a harrier from the hall,
Leaping in the air he sped to Charles call,
First the right ear of that grim bear he caught,
And furiously the leopard next he fought.
Of battle great the Franks then seemed to talk,
Yet which might win they knew not, in his thought.
Charles sleeps on, nor wakens he for aught.
AOI.
LVIII
Passes the night and opens the clear day;
That Emperour canters in brave array,
Looks through the host often and everyway;
"My lords barons," at length doth Charles say,
"Ye see the pass along these valleys strait,
Judge for me now, who shall in rereward wait."
"There's my good-son, Rollanz," then answers Guenes,
"You've no baron whose valour is as great."
When the King hears, he looks upon him straight,
And says to him: "You devil incarnate;
Into your heart is come a mortal hate.
And who shall go before me in the gate?"
"Oger is here, of Denmark;" answers Guenes,
"You've no baron were better in that place."
AOI.
LIX
The count Rollanz hath heard himself decreed;
Speaks then to Guenes by rule of courtesy:
"Good-father, Sir, I ought to hold you dear,
Since the rereward you have for me decreed.
Charles the King will never lose by me,
As I know well, nor charger nor palfrey,
Jennet nor mule that canter can with speed,
Nor sumpter-horse will lose, nor any steed;
But my sword's point shall first exact their meed."
Answers him Guenes: "I know; 'tis true in-deed."
AOI.
LX
When Rollant heard that he should be rerewarden
Furiously he spoke to his good-father:
"Aha! culvert; begotten of a bastard.
Thinkest the glove will slip from me hereafter,
As then from thee the wand fell before Charles?"
AOI.
LXI
"Right Emperour," says the baron Rollanz,
"Give me the bow you carry in your hand;
Neer in reproach, I know, will any man
Say that it fell and lay upon the land,
As Guenes let fall, when he received the wand."
That Emperour with lowered front doth stand,
He tugs his beard, his chin is in his hand
Tears fill his eyes, he cannot them command.
LXII
And after that is come duke Neimes furth,
(Better vassal there was not upon earth)
Says to the King: "Right well now have you heard
The count Rollanz to bitter wrath is stirred,
For that on him the rereward is conferred;
No baron else have you, would do that work.
Give him the bow your hands have bent, at first;
Then find him men, his company are worth."
Gives it, the King, and Rollant bears it furth.
LXIII
That Emperour, Rollanz then calleth he:
"Fair nephew mine, know this in verity;
Half of my host I leave you presently;
Retain you them; your safeguard this shall be."
Then says the count: "I will not have them, me I
Confound me God, if I fail in the deed!
Good valiant Franks, a thousand score I'll keep.
Go through the pass in all security,
While I'm alive there's no man you need fear."
AOI.
LXIV
The count Rollanz has mounted his charger.
Beside him came his comrade Oliver,
Also Gerins and the proud count Geriers,
And Otes came, and also Berengiers,
Old Anseis, and Sansun too came there;
Gerart also of Rossillon the fierce,
And there is come the Gascon Engeliers.
"Now by my head I'll go!" the Archbishop swears.
"And I'm with you," says then the count Gualtiers,
"I'm Rollant's man, I may not leave him there."
A thousand score they choose of chevaliers.
AOI.
LXV
Gualter del Hum he calls, that Count Rollanz;
"A thousand Franks take, out of France our land;
Dispose them so, among ravines and crags,
That the Emperour lose not a single man."
Gualter replies: "I'll do as you command."
A thousand Franks, come out of France their land,
At Gualter's word they scour ravines and crags;
They'll not come down, howe'er the news be bad,
Ere from their sheaths swords seven hundred flash.
King Almaris, Belserne for kingdom had,
On the evil day he met them in combat.
AOI.
LXVI
High are the peaks, the valleys shadowful,
Swarthy the rocks, the narrows wonderful.
Franks passed that day all very sorrowful,
Fifteen leagues round the rumour of them grew.
When they were come, and Terra Major knew,
Saw Gascony their land and their seigneur's,
Remembering their fiefs and their honours,
Their little maids, their gentle wives and true;
There was not one that shed not tears for rue.
Beyond the rest Charles was of anguish full,
In Spanish Pass he'd left his dear nephew;
Pity him seized; he could but weep for rue.
AOI.
LXVII
The dozen peers are left behind in Spain,
Franks in their band a thousand score remain,
No fear have these, death hold they in disdain.
That Emperour goes into France apace;
Under his cloke he fain would hide his face.
Up to his side comes cantering Duke Neimes,
Says to the King: "What grief upon you weighs?"
Charles answers him: "He's wrong that question makes.
So great my grief I cannot but complain.
France is destroyed, by the device of Guene:
This night I saw, by an angel's vision plain,
Between my hands he brake my spear in twain;
Great fear I have, since Rollant must remain:
I've left him there, upon a border strange.
God! If he's lost, I'll not outlive that shame."
AOI.
LXVIII
Charles the great, he cannot but deplore.
And with him Franks an hundred thousand mourn,
Who for Rollanz have marvellous remorse.
The felon Guenes had treacherously wrought;
From pagan kin has had his rich reward,
Silver and gold, and veils and silken cloths,
Camels, lions, with many a mule and horse.
Barons from Spain King Marsilies hath called,
Counts and viscounts and dukes and almacours,
And the admirals, and cadets nobly born;
Within three days come hundreds thousands four.
In Sarraguce they sound the drums of war;
Mahum they raise upon their highest tow'r,
Pagan is none, that does not him adore.
They canter then with great contention
Through Certeine land, valleys and mountains, on,
Till of the Franks they see the gonfalons,
Being in rereward those dozen companions;
They will not fail battle to do anon.
LXIX
Marsile's nephew is come before the band,
Riding a mule, he goads it with a wand,
Smiling and clear, his uncle's ear demands:
"Fair Lord and King, since, in your service, glad,
I have endured sorrow and sufferance,
Have fought in field, and victories have had.
Give me a fee: the right to smite Rollanz!
I'll slay him clean with my good trenchant lance,
If Mahumet will be my sure warrant;
Spain I'll set free, deliver all her land
From Pass of Aspre even unto Durestant.
Charles will grow faint, and recreant the Franks;
There'll be no war while you're a living man."
Marsilie gives the glove into his hand.
AOI.
LXX
Marsile's nephew, holding in hand the glove,
His uncle calls, with reason proud enough:
"Fair Lord and King, great gift from you I've won.
Choose now for me eleven more baruns,
So I may fight those dozen companions."
First before all there answers Falfarun;
—Brother he was to King Marsiliun—
"Fair sir nephew, go you and I at once
Then verily this battle shall be done;
The rereward of the great host of Carlun,
It is decreed we deal them now their doom."
AOI.
LXXI
King Corsablis is come from the other part,
Barbarian, and steeped in evil art.
He's spoken then as fits a good vassal,
For all God's gold he would not seem coward.
Hastes into view Malprimis of Brigal,
Faster than a horse, upon his feet can dart,
Before Marsile he cries with all his heart:
"My body I will shew at Rencesvals;
Find I Rollanz, I'll slay him without fault."
LXXII
An admiral is there of Balaguet;
Clear face and proud, and body nobly bred;
Since first he was upon his horse mounted,
His arms to bear has shewn great lustihead;
In vassalage he is well famoused;
Christian were he, he'd shewn good baronhead.
Before Marsile aloud has he shouted:
"To Rencesvals my body shall be led;
Find I Rollanz, then is he surely dead,
And Oliver, and all the other twelve;
Franks shall be slain in grief and wretchedness.
Charles the great is old now and doted,
Weary will be and make no war again;
Spain shall be ours, in peace and quietness."
King Marsilies has heard and thanks him well.
AOI.
LXXIII
An almacour is there of Moriane,
More felon none in all the land of Spain.
Before Marsile his vaunting boast hath made:
"To Rencesvals my company I'll take,
A thousand score, with shields and lances brave.
Find I Rollanz, with death I'll him acquaint;
Day shall not dawn but Charles will make his plaint."
AOI.
LXXIV
From the other part, Turgis of Turtelose,
He was a count, that city was his own;
Christians he would them massacre, every one.
Before Marsile among the rest is gone,
Says to the King: "Let not dismay be shewn!
Mahum's more worth than Saint Peter of Rome;
Serve we him well, then fame in field we'll own.
To Rencesvals, to meet Rollanz I'll go,
From death he'll find his warranty in none.
See here my sword, that is both good and long
With Durendal I'll lay it well across;
Ye'll hear betimes to which the prize is gone.
Franks shall be slain, whom we descend upon,
Charles the old will suffer grief and wrong,
No more on earth his crown will he put on."
LXXV
From the other part, Escremiz of Valtrenne,
A Sarrazin, that land was his as well.
Before Marsile he cries amid the press:
"To Rencesvals I go, pride to make less;
Find I Rollanz, he'll not bear thence his head,
Nor Oliver that hath the others led,
The dozen peers condemned are to death;
Franks shall be slain, and France lie deserted.
Of good vassals will Charles be richly bled."
AOI.
LXXVI
From the other part, a pagan Esturganz;
Estramariz also, was his comrade;
Felons were these, and traitors miscreant.
Then said Marsile: "My Lords, before me stand!
Into the pass ye'll go to Rencesvals,
Give me your aid, and thither lead my band."
They answer him: "Sire, even as you command.
We will assault Olivier and Rollant,
The dozen peers from death have no warrant,
For these our swords are trusty and trenchant,
In scalding blood we'll dye their blades scarlat.
Franks shall be slain, and Chares be right sad.
Terra Major we'll give into your hand;
Come there, Sir King, truly you'll see all that
Yea, the Emperour we'll give into your hand."
LXXVII
Running there came Margariz of Sibile,
Who holds the land by Cadiz, to the sea.
For his beauty the ladies hold him dear;
Who looks on him, with him her heart is pleased,
When she beholds, she can but smile for glee.
Was no pagan of such high chivalry.
Comes through the press, above them all cries he,
"Be not at all dismayed, King Marsilie!
To Rencesvals I go, and Rollanz, he
Nor Oliver may scape alive from me;
The dozen peers are doomed to martyry.
See here the sword, whose hilt is gold indeed,
I got in gift from the admiral of Primes;
In scarlat blood I pledge it shall be steeped.
Franks shall be slain, and France abased be.
To Charles the old, with his great blossoming beard,
Day shall not dawn but brings him rage and grief,
Ere a year pass, all France we shall have seized,
Till we can lie in th' burgh of Saint Denise."
The pagan king has bowed his head down deep.
AOI.
LXXVIII
From the other part, Chemubles of Muneigre.
Right to the ground his hair swept either way;
He for a jest would bear a heavier weight
Than four yoked mules, beneath their load that strain.
That land he had, God's curse on it was plain.
No sun shone there, nor grew there any grain,
No dew fell there, nor any shower of rain,
The very stones were black upon that plain;
And many say that devils there remain.
Says Chemubles "My sword is in its place,
At Rencesvals scarlat I will it stain;
Find I Rollanz the proud upon my way,
I'll fall on him, or trust me not again,
And Durendal I'll conquer with this blade,
Franks shall be slain, and France a desert made."
The dozen peers are, at this word, away,
Five score thousand of Sarrazins they take;
Who keenly press, and on to battle haste;
In a fir-wood their gear they ready make.
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