« PreviousContinue »
Karlemaine, the mighty king, gave me to speak to his mortal enemy!' As he said this, he cast his ermine mantle from his shoulders, and stood forward so defiant, with his right hand still on the hilt of his sword, that [the Paynims said, 'This is a noble baron'—' Noble baron ad ci.' Another similar scene ensues at the reading of Karl's letter when the Sultan's son wore such menacing aspect, that Ganelon drew his sword, and set his back against a pine, prepared for the onset. However, the Moor who accompanied Ganelon makes peace, and tells them that the Frank is willing to engage in a plot for their advantage; and they begin to discuss how the death of Roland shall be accomplished-Ganelon ever and anon bringing them to the conviction that as long as Roland lives they can never breathe freely. The Saracen king begins by inquiring about Charlemagne ; and the description of the Frank emperor in the mouth of an enemy has especial force. When will he ever be weary of war? Marvel have I much of Karlemagne, who is now bald and white-bearded. Sure he must be two hundred years of age. So many kingdoms has he overcome; so many blows has he received from their good biting swords; so many mighty kings has he reduced to beggary, or slain and conquered in open field-whenever will he weary of campaigning?' Says Ganelon, That will never be in Roland's lifetime; there is not such a vassal from here to farthest East. And the proud Oliver, his comrade, is much like him. Then there are the twelve peers, whom Karl loves so much, who are at the head of twenty thousand Franks: with their aid Karl fears no living soul.' Then Ganelon explains his scheme for making an end of Roland. He will manage in the council of Charlemagne that Roland have the charge of the rear-guard assigned to him. Oliver will be sure to accompany his comrade, with the twelve peers. The Saracens shall then fall upon them with a hundred thousand men; and though these are sure to be destroyed, a second attack upon the Franks will certainly annihilate their rear-guard. Paynims, overjoyed at the prospect, present Ganelon with rich weapons and presents of various kinds, and the traitor swears to perform his part of the plan by kissing the relics of his swordhilt.
Ganelon returns to the camp of Karl, and announces that his mission has had complete success: that if Karl will retreat from Spain, the Saracen monarch will come to Aix in the following year, receive baptism, and do homage for his territory. In the mean time he has brought the tribute which Karl demanded of them. The Frank army, full of joy at the termination of the campaign, prepares for return to France. But Karl has prophetic
visions of evil in the night, and on the morrow he consults his barons about the manner of retreat, and especially as to whom the charge of the rear-guard-the most dangerous post, above all in defiles of the Pyrenees-shall be given. Ganelon immediately names Roland; and Roland, in spite of the reluctance of the Emperor to confer on his rash and impetuous nephew so important a charge, presses forward his claims with eagerness and delight, and obtains the post, in company with Oliver and the Archbishop Turpin. The Frank army proceed homeward. The Emperor and the vanguard have safely attained Gascony when the Saracens, following up their arrangement with Ganelon, come down upon the rear-guard.
As the Paynim host draws nigh to the Frank rear-guard, they sound their trumpets, one thousand all at once. Oliver hears them, and says to Roland, Sir comrade, I think we shall have to do battle with the Saracen.' Roland answers haughtily, as was his wont, And God grant it! We are here in the service of our King; for his suzerain a man is bound to suffer distress, to endure great heat and great cold; and if he does not, he deserves to lose both body and soul. Now look ye that each strikes his mightiest blow, that no shameful ballad be ever sung about us. Paynims are in the wrong, and Christians in the right; no bad example shall men find in me.'
Oliver mounts upon a lofty height, and he looks towards his right, down a wooded valley; he sees the Paynim host how vast it is, and he calls aloud to Roland, his comrade: On the side of Spain I see a great dust arise, and countless blazing hauberks and flaming helms. This matter will cause the Franks great loss. Ganelon is the cause of it, the felon, the traitor! who named us for this post before the Emperor.' 'Be silent, Oliver,' the Count Roland replies: "he is my step-father; I will not have word spoken of him.'
'Oliver est muntez desur un pui haltur
Guardet suz destre par mi un val herbus,
Si'n apelat Rollant sun compaignun;
Icist ferunt noz Franceis grant irur.
Guenes le sout, li fel, li träitur
Says Oliver, 'I have seen the Paynim; never man on earth saw There before me are a hundred thousand with shield,
armed with laced helms and white hauberks-erect are their spear-shafts, glittering are their iron spear-heads. Battle will you have now, such as never was before? Seignurs of France, place your trust in God, and form your ranks that we be not overcome.' The Franks reply- A bad end come to him who flies: not one of us will fail you in death.'
Then ensues one of the most striking passages of the poem. Three times Oliver entreats Roland to sound his marvellous horn. Karl will surely hear it and haste to their succour; but Roland, in his scornful valour, refuses till too late; when Oliver, in his turn, scoffs ironically at his comrade. Says Oliver"The Paynim are in great strength: our Franks, it seems me, are very few. Comrade Roland, sound now your horn; Karl will hear it, and the host will return.' Roland replied-'I should be a fool to do that; in sweet France I should lose my fair fame (mon los)-no, but I will strike weighty blows with Durendal; the blade shall be steeped in blood up to the goldhilt. In an ill hour for them are the felon Paynim come to this pass. I will go bail, not a man shall escape.' 'Comrade Roland, sound now your horn. If Karl hears, he will make the host return; the King with all his nobles will deliver us.' Roland replies- May it never be the will of God for me to do this, so that my kindred have shame through me, and become vile in the realm of sweet France; the rather will I strike my best with Durendal, the good blade girded on my side. You shall see the white steel drip with blood! In an ill hour for them are Paynims gathered together against us. I will pledge myself that not a man shall escape.'
'Comrade Roland, sound your horn; if Karl hears it beyond the pass, I warrant you the Franks will come back to us. 'Never may it be God's will,' replies Roland, that this be said of me by living man, that for fear of Paynims I had recourse to my horn! My kindred shall never bear such a reproach. But when I shall be in the mighty battle, and I shall have struck a thousand seven hundred blows, then shall you see blood on the steel of Durendal. Good men are the Franks, like true vassals will they fight, and the men of Spain find no refuge from death.' AOI.
When Roland saw the battle was nigh, his look was calm and stern as that of lion or leopard: he calls to the Franks, and addresses Oliver, and exhorts them to deeds of valour and loyalty. For himself, 'he will strike with Durendal, the good blade which his king gave him; and if he dies, whoever gets it shall say, "This was the sword of a noble vassal"'—Que ele fut à nobile vassal.'
On the other side the Archbishop Turpin spurs his horse and mounts upon a height, calls to the Franks, and makes them a 'sermun.' 6 Seignurs barons,' he cries, Karl left us here. For our king our duty is to die: now uphold worthily the cause of Christendom! Battle will you have, of that you are well sure, for with your own eyes you see the Saracens. Confess your sins; pray God's mercy! I give you absolution to save your souls. If you die, you shall be holy martyrs; seats shall ye have in Paradise above.' The Franks get off their horses; they kneel upon the ground, and the Archbishop of God gives them his benediction, and, for penance, directs them to strike well.
Then begins the battle-Roland spurs his charger Veillantif forward, and slays with Durendal the nephew of the King of Saragossa, who rode beyond the ranks. Then Roland turning cries to the Franks to join battle- Never shall sweet France,' he says, 'lose her fair fame. Strike now, Franks! ours is the first blow. We are in the right, but these villains in the wrong.'
'Oi n'en perdrat France dulce sun los,
Ferez i Francs! Nostre est li premers colps.
Nos avum dreit mais cist glutun unt tort.'
Then ensue a number of single combats between the Franks and Saracens after some time, in the thick of the fight, Roland observes that Oliver has broken his lance short off in the middle, and is smiting the Saracen down with the butt-end of his shaft -Comrade,' cries Roland, What are you doing-in such a battle do not use a staff-iron and steel has its value now. Where is your sword Halteclere, whose guard is gold, and whose hilt is crystal?' I cannot get it out,' Oliver replies, "for I am too busy in striking.'
'Ne la poi traire, Oliver li respunt,
Kar de ferir ai jo si grant besoign.'
However, Oliver now draws Halteclere, and with his first blow with it cleaves a Paynim, Justin de Val Ferrée, from the crown of the head right through the body down to the saddle, cuts through the saddle and spine of his horse, so that both man and horse fall a dead mass before him.
'Tout abat mort devant loi en la prèe.'
Then says Roland:-'Now you are my true brother; for such blows as that the emperor loves us.'
Here, in the very middle of the battle, the bard, with a fine touch of poetic invention, draws the attention of his hearers to France, where wives and kindred are fearfully awaiting warriors who never will return-to Karl on the other side of the pass,
already filled with foreboding-for portents as marvellous and prophetic as those which foreran the fate of Cæsar, and which seemed to some to announce the end of the world, spread a gloom as of an eclipse all over France; being, in fact, the mourning of all nature for the death of the brave Roland. Throughout France there were marvellous portents: now was there thunder, and storm, and rain, and hail immeasurable; and the thunderbolts fell thick and fast, and verily there was an earthquake from Saint Michael's at Paris to Seinz, from Besançon even to the port of Witsand; nor was there any walled place of which the walls were not fissured. Towards the south there rose a great darkness; nor was there any brightness except where the heavens opened. No man beheld this who was not much terrified. Many said, "Lo! here is the end of the world; the end of the age has now come upon us." But they neither knew nor spoke the truth, for this was the universal woe for the death of Roland.' *
For in spite of their desperate valour, and the thousands of Saracens who fell before them, Roland and his peers saw their comrades lessen around them. Nevertheless the first division of the Paynim were either slain or put to flight, when the second came on, and all hope was lost. The Sultan of Saragossa himself led the second attack, and the eleven peers of Roland themselves began to fall.
At last, when not more than sixty men of all his host were left, Roland looked and saw that his men had suffered great loss, and he called his comrade Oliver- Fair sire, dear comrade, by the God who gives you strength, you see so many brave vassals here lying on the earth, weep must we for sweet France, the fair, that she is bereaved of such barons now and for ever. dear lord and king, why are you not here! Oliver, my brother, how can we manage it? How can we send him news?' Says Oliver, 'I do not know how it is to be done: better death than the shame of retreat.'
Roland is thus forced to return to the subject of the horn himself; he will wind it-Cornerai l'olifant. But Oliver replies ironically, Great shame would it be, and bring reproach on your kindred; this shame will cling to them their lives long.' He added in anger, 'By my beard, if I ever get back to my dear sister Alde, I will take care you never come to her arms.' Then says Roland, Why are you angry with me?' The other replies
It seems almost impossible but that the author of the Chanson de Roland' must have been acquainted with the famous passage of the first Georgic, beginning
'Ille etiam extincto miseratus Cæsare Romam;