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Song of Roland
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READ STUDY GUIDE: Laisses 177-188

 
Section 7:
Laisses 177-188
 
CLXXVII
Rollant is dead; his soul to heav'n God bare.
That Emperour to Rencesvals doth fare.
There was no path nor passage anywhere
Nor of waste ground no ell nor foot to spare
Without a Frank or pagan lying there.
Charles cries aloud: "Where are you, nephew fair?
Where's the Archbishop and that count Oliviers?
Where is Gerins and his comrade Gerers?
Otes the Duke, and the count Berengiers
And Ivorie, and Ive, so dear they were?
What is become of Gascon Engelier,
Sansun the Duke and Anseis the fierce?
Where's old Gerard of Russillun; oh, where
The dozen peers I left behind me here?"
But what avail, since none can answer bear?
"God!" says the King, "Now well may I despair,
I was not here the first assault to share!"
Seeming enraged, his beard the King doth tear.
Weep from their eyes barons and chevaliers,
A thousand score, they swoon upon the earth;
Duke Neimes for them was moved with pity rare.
CLXXVIII
No chevalier nor baron is there, who
Pitifully weeps not for grief and dule;
They mourn their sons, their brothers, their nephews,
And their liege lords, and trusty friends and true;
Upon the ground a many of them swoon.
Thereon Duke Neimes doth act with wisdom proof,
First before all he's said to the Emperour:
"See beforehand, a league from us or two,
From the highways dust rising in our view;
Pagans are there, and many them, too.
Canter therefore! Vengeance upon them do!"
"Ah, God!" says Charles, "so far are they re-moved!
Do right by me, my honour still renew!
They've torn from me the flower of France the Douce."
The King commands Gebuin and Otun,
Tedbalt of Reims, also the count Milun:
"Guard me this field, these hills and valleys too,
Let the dead lie, all as they are, unmoved,
Let not approach lion, nor any brute,
Let not approach esquire, nor any groom;
For I forbid that any come thereto,
Until God will that we return anew."
These answer him sweetly, their love to prove:
"Right Emperour, dear Sire, so will we do."
A thousand knights they keep in retinue.
AOI.
CLXXIX
That Emperour bids trumpets sound again,
Then canters forth with his great host so brave.
Of Spanish men, whose backs are turned their way,
Franks one and all continue in their chase.
When the King sees the light at even fade,
On the green grass dismounting as he may,
He kneels aground, to God the Lord doth pray
That the sun's course He will for him delay,
Put off the night, and still prolong the day.
An angel then, with him should reason make,
Nimbly enough appeared to him and spake:
"Charles, canter on! Light needst not thou await.
The flower of France, as God knows well, is slain;
Thou canst be avenged upon that crimeful race."
Upon that word mounts the Emperour again.
AOI.
CLXXX
For Charlemagne a great marvel God planned:
Making the sun still in his course to stand.
So pagans fled, and chased them well the Franks
Through the Valley of Shadows, close in hand;
Towards Sarraguce by force they chased them back,
And as they went with killing blows attacked:
Barred their highways and every path they had.
The River Sebre before them reared its bank,
'Twas very deep, marvellous current ran;
No barge thereon nor dromond nor caland.
A god of theirs invoked they, Tervagant.
And then leaped in, but there no warrant had.
The armed men more weighty were for that,
Many of them down to the bottom sank,
Downstream the rest floated as they might hap;
So much water the luckiest of them drank,
That all were drowned, with marvellous keen pangs.
"An evil day," cry Franks, "ye saw Rollant!"
CLXXXI
When Charles sees that pagans all are dead,
Some of them slain, the greater part drowned;
(Whereby great spoils his chevaliers collect)
That gentle King upon his feet descends,
Kneels on the ground, his thanks to God presents.
When he once more rise, the sun is set.
Says the Emperour "Time is to pitch our tents;
To Rencesvals too late to go again.
Our horses are worn out and foundered:
Unsaddle them, take bridles from their heads,
And through these meads let them refreshment get."
Answer the Franks: "Sire, you have spoken well."
AOI.
CLXXXII
That Emperour hath chosen his bivouac;
The Franks dismount in those deserted tracts,
Their saddles take from off their horses' backs,
Bridles of gold from off their heads unstrap,
Let them go free; there is enough fresh grass—
No service can they render them, save that.
Who is most tired sleeps on the ground stretched flat.
Upon this night no sentinels keep watch.
CLXXXIII
That Emperour is lying in a mead;
By's head, so brave, he's placed his mighty spear;
On such a night unarmed he will not be.
He's donned his white hauberk, with broidery,
Has laced his helm, jewelled with golden beads,
Girt on Joiuse, there never was its peer,
Whereon each day thirty fresh hues appear.
All of us know that lance, and well may speak
Whereby Our Lord was wounded on the Tree:
Charles, by God's grace, possessed its point of steel!
His golden hilt he enshrined it underneath.
By that honour and by that sanctity
The name Joiuse was for that sword decreed.
Barons of France may not forgetful be
Whence comes the ensign "Monjoie," they cry at need;
Wherefore no race against them can succeed.
CLXXXIV
Clear was the night, the moon shone radiant.
Charles laid him down, but sorrow for Rollant
And Oliver, most heavy on him he had,
For's dozen peers, for all the Frankish band
He had left dead in bloody Rencesvals;
He could not help, but wept and waxed mad,
And prayed to God to be their souls' Warrant.
Weary that King, or grief he's very sad;
He falls on sleep, he can no more withstand.
Through all those meads they slumber then, the Franks;
Is not a horse can any longer stand,
Who would eat grass, he takes it lying flat.
He has learned much, can understand their pangs.
CLXXXV
Charles, like a man worn out with labour, slept.
Saint Gabriel the Lord to him hath sent,
Whom as a guard o'er the Emperour he set;
Stood all night long that angel by his head.
In a vision announced he to him then
A battle, should be fought against him yet,
Significance of griefs demonstrated.
Charles looked up towards the sky, and there
Thunders and winds and blowing gales beheld,
And hurricanes and marvellous tempests;
Lightnings and flames he saw in readiness,
That speedily on all his people fell;
Apple and ash, their spear-shafts all burned,
Also their shields, e'en the golden bosses,
Crumbled the shafts of their trenchant lances,
Crushed their hauberks and all their steel helmets.
His chevaliers he saw in great distress.
Bears and leopards would feed upon them next;
Adversaries, dragons, wyverns, serpents,
Griffins were there, thirty thousand, no less,
Nor was there one but on some Frank it set.
And the Franks cried: "Ah! Charlemagne, give help!"
Wherefore the King much grief and pity felt,
He'ld go to them but was in duress kept:
Out of a wood came a great lion then,
'Twas very proud and fierce and terrible;
His body dear sought out, and on him leapt,
Each in his arms, wrestling, the other held;
But he knew not which conquered, nor which fell.
That Emperour woke not at all, but slept.
CLXXXVI
And, after that, another vision came:
Himseemed in France, at Aix, on a terrace,
And that he held a bruin by two chains;
Out of Ardenne saw thirty bears that came,
And each of them words, as a man might, spake
Said to him: "Sire, give him to us again!
It is not right that he with you remain,
He's of our kin, and we must lend him aid."
A harrier fair ran out of his palace,
Among them all the greatest bear assailed
On the green grass, beyond his friends some way.
There saw the King marvellous give and take;
But he knew not which fell, nor which o'ercame.
The angel of God so much to him made plain.
Charles slept on till the clear dawn of day.
CLXXXVII
King Marsilies, fleeing to Sarraguce,
Dismounted there beneath an olive cool;
His sword and sark and helm aside he put,
On the green grass lay down in shame and gloom;
For his right hand he'd lost, 'twas clean cut through;
Such blood he'd shed, in anguish keen he swooned.
Before his face his lady Bramimunde
Bewailed and cried, with very bitter rue;
Twenty thousand and more around him stood,
All of them cursed Carlun and France the Douce.
Then Apollin in's grotto they surround,
And threaten him, and ugly words pronounce:
"Such shame on us, vile god!, why bringest thou?
This is our king; wherefore dost him confound?
Who served thee oft, ill recompense hath found."
Then they take off his sceptre and his crown,
With their hands hang him from a column down,
Among their feet trample him on the ground,
With great cudgels they batter him and trounce.
From Tervagant his carbuncle they impound,
And Mahumet into a ditch fling out,
Where swine and dogs defile him and devour.
CLXXXVIII
Out of his swoon awakens Marsilies,
And has him borne his vaulted roof beneath;
Many colours were painted there to see,
And Bramimunde laments for him, the queen,
Tearing her hair; caitiff herself she clepes;
Also these words cries very loud and clear:
"Ah! Sarraguce, henceforth forlorn thou'lt be
Of the fair king that had thee in his keep!
All those our gods have wrought great felony,
Who in battle this morning failed at need.
That admiral will shew his cowardice,
Unless he fight against that race hardy,
Who are so fierce, for life they take no heed.
That Emperour, with his blossoming beard,
Hath vassalage, and very high folly;
Battle to fight, he will not ever flee.
Great grief it is, no man may slay him clean."
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