Taken from York University

The Song of Roland

translated by

Jessie Crosland

(thank you, Jessie)

168. Roland feels that his own death is near; his brain is issuing forth out of his ears. Concerning his peers he prays God that he will call them to him, then on his own behalf he prays to the angel Gabriel. He takes the horn that he may have no reproach, and in the other hand he takes Durendal his sword. Somewhat further than a cross-bow can shoot an arrow he walks on the plough land in the direction of Spain; he mounts on a hillock and there under a fine tree there are four steps made of marble. He has fallen face downwards on the green grass and there he has lost consciousness for death is very near.
169. High are the hills and very high the trees, and there are four steps there of shining marble. Count Roland has swooned on the green grass. A Saracen who was feigning to be dead and lying amongst the others has been watching him all the time. He has besmeared his face and body with blood, and getting up on his feet he hastily runs towards him. He was big and strong and courageous, and his pride incites him to his fatal folly. He seized hold of Roland, both of his body and his arms and said one word: "The nephew of Charles is vanquished! I will take his sword to Arabia." As he drew it from him the count regained his senses a little.
170. Roland feels that he is taking his sword. He opens his eyes and says a word to him: "I know that thou art not one of ours!" He grips the horn from which he does not wish to be parted, and strikes the heathen on his helmet studded with gold. He smashes the steelwork and the head and the bones, he strikes both his eyes out of his head and overthrows him at his feet, dead. Then he said to him: "Heathen son of a slave, how wert thou so daring as to seize me, whether for right or for wrong? No one will hear of it but he will hold thee for a fool. Now my horn is split right in the wide part, and the crystal and the gold is all knocked off."
171. Roland feels that his sight is failing; he rises to his feet and exerts himself as much as he can, but all the colour has fled from his face. There is a dark rock in front of him and he strikes ten blows on it in grief and anger. The steel grates but it does not break nor splinter. "Ah!" said the count, "Holy Mary, help me! Durendal, good sword, how ill-fated thou wert! When I have left this life, I can care for thee no longer. Many are the battlefields on which I have been victorious through you, and many are the broad lands I have conquered for Charles the hoary-bearded. May you never belong to a man who would flee before anyone! A very good vassal has wielded you this longtime; never will there be another such in the free land of France."
172. Roland strikes his sword on the hard stone. The steel grates, but it neither breaks nor splinters. When he sees that he cannot break it he begins to lament over it to himself: "Ah! Durendal, how beautiful thou art, how clear and bright! How dost thou shine and sparkle in the sunlight! Charles was in the valleys of Moriane when God sent word to him by an angel from heaven that he should give thee to a count and a leader. It was then that the great and noble king girded it on me. With it I conquered Anjou and Brittany, Poitou and the Maine. With it I conquered proud Normandy, and Provence and Aquitaine and Lombardy and the whole of Romania: with it I conquered Bavaria and all Flanders and Burgundy and the whole of Poland, and Constantinople which owed allegiance to him, and Saxony where he acts as he will. With it I conquered Scotland... and England which he called his chamber; with it I have conquered many countries and lands which now belong to Charles whose beard is growing white. I have such grief and heaviness for this sword; I would much rather die than leave it in the hands of the heathen. Oh God, and Father, let not France suffer this shame."
173. Roland struck upon the dark stone and shattered it in more pieces than I can tell you. The sword grates, but it does not splinter nor break; it rebounds upwards towards the sky. When the count perceives that he cannot break it, he laments over it very gently to himself: Ah! Durendal, how beautiful and holy thou art! In thy gilded pommel are many relics: Saint Peter's tooth and some of St. Basil's blood, some of the hairs of my lord Saint Denis and a piece of the garment of holy Mary. It is not right that thou shouldst be in the possession of the heathen; you should ever be in the guardianship of Christians. May no man who commits a cowardice possess you! By means of you I shall have vanquished many wide lands which are now in the possession of Charles the hoary bearded. The emperor has become powerful and rich thereby."
174. Roland feels that death holds him fast, for it has travelled down from his head to his heart. He has hastened to get beneath a pine-tree; there on the green grass he lays himself down on his face, and he places his sword and the horn beneath him. He has turned his head in the direction of the heathen folk, for he wishes intently that Charles and all his army may say: "He has died like a conqueror, the noble count. In few words he confesses himself again and again, and holds forth his glove to God for his sins."
175. Roland feels that the end of his time has come. He lies on a rocky hillock looking towards Spain, and with one hand he beats his breast: "God, I am guilty before thee on account of the sins both great and small that I have committed, from the hour I was born to this day on which I am struck down!" He has stretched out his right glove towards God. The angels of heaven descend to him.
176. Count Roland has laid himself down beneath a pine tree and has turned his face towards Spain. He began to call many things to mind: the many lands he had conquered, sweet France, and the men of his lineage, and Charlemaine, his lord, who nurtured him. He cannot restrain himself from weeping and sighing, but he is not forgetful of himself; he confesses himself and prays God for his mercy: "O true Father, who didst never lie, thou who didst raise St. Lazarus from the dead and save Daniel from the lions, save my soul from all the perils that beset it on account of the sins which I have committed in my life." He held out his right glove to God, and St. Gabriel took it from his hand. His head was resting on his arm and his hands were clasped, and thus he went to his end. God sent down his angel Cherubin and St. Michel du Peril; with them came St. Gabriel, and they carry the soul of the count to Paradise.
177. Roland is dead; God has his soul in heaven. The emperor arrives at Roncevaux-there is not a road, not a path, not an ell nor a square foot of free ground but either a Frenchman or a heathen is lying on it. Charles cries out: "Where are you, fair nephew? Where is the archbishop? and Count Oliver? Where is Gerin and his companion Gerier? Where is Oton, and the count Berenger? Where are Ivon and Ivoire whom I loved so much? What has become of Engelier the Gascon? Of Samson the duke and the valiant warrior Anses? Where is the aged Girard of Roussillon, and where are the twelve peers whom I left behind?" Of what avail are his cries, for no one replies to them? "God," said the king, "I am full of dismay that I was not here at the beginning of the battle." He pulls his beard like a man in great anguish, and all his baron knights weep; twenty thousand of them swoon and fall to the ground. Naimes the duke is filled with pity for them.
178. There is not a single knight nor baron who does not weep bitterly for pity. They mourn their sons, their brothers, their nephews, their friends and their liege-lords. Many of them lie in a swoon upon the ground. Duke Naimes acted on this occasion like a brave man. He was the first to address the emperor: Look, in front of us, about two leagues off, you can see the high roads covered with dust. There is a large army of heathen; ride on, I beseech you, avenge this grief!" "Ah! God," said Charles, "they are far away already. Counsel me now both rightly and honourably; for they have robbed me of the flower of sweet France." Then the king gave the order to Gebon and Oton, Tedbalt of Reims and count Milon: "Guard the field of battle and the valleys and the mountains. Leave the dead lying just as they are; let no lion or any beast touch them; let no squire nor any servant touch them. I forbid them to be touched by anyone until God permits us to return to this field." And they replied gently, out of love for their master: "Just emperor, dear lord, thus will we do." And they keep a thousand of their vassals with them there.
179. The emperor causes his trumpets to be sounded, then he rides forward valiantly with his great army. Those of Spain have their backs turned towards them (?); the French pursue after them as one man. When the king sees that evening is falling, he dismounts in a meadow upon the green grass, lies down upon the ground and prays to the Lord God that he will cause the sun to stop in its course for him, that the night might tarry and the day remain. And behold, an angel, the one that was accustomed to speak to him, quickly gave him the command: "Ride, Charles, for the light shall not fail thee. Thou hast lost the flower of France-God knows this. But you may take your vengeance on this wicked people." At these words the emperor mounted his horse again.
180. God performed a very great miracle for Charlemaine, for the sun stood still. The heathen flee, the French pursue them; they come up to them in the Val Tenebreux, then force them fighting towards Saragossa. They slay them with mighty blows and cut them off from the tracks and the high roads. Now the river Ebro is in front of them; it is a very deep river, mysterious and swift, and no barge, nor swift galley, nor sloop is seen upon it. The heathen call upon Tervagant, one of their gods, then they leap in; but there is no protection for them. The armed men are the heaviest and they go straight down to the bottom in numbers; the others float down
stream. The most fortunate have drunk in abundance and at last they are all drowned in great anguish. The French cry out: "To your misfortune you saw Roland."

  The Death of Roland

An Alternate Translation, in Heroic Couplets: (optional, a source of mirth)

Taken from Bartleby

The Song of Roland.

The Harvard Classics.  1909–1914.


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;
                    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;
                    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.
                    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,
                    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,
                    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;
                    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,
                    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.”


                    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—
                    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,
                    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
                    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.
                    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,
                    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;
                    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;
                    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,
                    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.
                    “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.
                    ’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!
                    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,
                    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.
                    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.
                    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,
                    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;
                    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:
                    “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.”
                    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
                    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.